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ESB Networks unveils Dingle as epicentre of Ireland's smart energy future

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Image: ESB Networks.

Irish utility ESB Networks has launched a landmark project on the Dingle peninsula as it seeks to put its ‘first foot forward’ in rolling out a future proofing strategy for Ireland’s electrical system out to 2030 and beyond.

As part of a €4.8 billion (£4.17 billion) capital and operational investment programme out to 2020, €4 million (£3.47 million) is to be spent in the region on both the network itself and on schemes within the homes of some of the 4,700 residents in Dingle.

Jonathan Sandham, smart networks manager at ESB Networks, told Clean Energy News: “Essentially what we're trying to do at a high level is put ourselves in the shoes of someone in 2030 and appreciate both the technology and the mindset of a customer in 2030. What is the culture around energy for an individual and a community, and how would we operate the network to reflect that?

“If we chase it from the technology end we could end up finding the perfect technology that a customer just doesn't want to adopt, so we're trying to understand what makes the customer tick in 2030 and then complement it with the right technology configured in the right way.”

The company will seek to deploy a range of technologies in the region to reach its goals, focussing primarily on decarbonisation within heat and transport where ESB Networks expects demand to grow as electrification increases.

The company will use smart electric vehicle chargers, as well as Ireland’s first vehicle to grid chargers, air source heat pumps and smart immersion controllers to create flexibility within participant’s homes.

By separating and monitoring heat and transport from general energy demand, ESB expects to be able to determine the optimum amount of energy storage needed to accommodate the various technologies being considering for future proofing the Irish electricity network.

The company has already thrown its backing behind StoreNet, a project unveiled in December to deploy battery storage and smart technologies in selected Dingle homes. It will now increase its involvement in the development of the region as a test bed for the smart technologies of the future.

Bringing on ambassadors

To ensure maximum community participation, a local radio competition will be launched to select five ‘ambassadors’ who will be interviewed regularly about their experiences. According to Sandham, those selected will get “the full flavour of everything”; including air source heat pumps, solar PV, battery storage, smart chargers, immersion controls and a smart breaker in their consumer unit or fuseboard.

The latter will allow ESB Networks to ‘throttle’ how much power can be consumed in the homes to allow for low levels of demand at various locations, and to test the resilience capabilities of the other technologies.

The peninsula suffers from around 30 storm days throughout the year, resulting in regular outages. The breakers will be used to increase response times to such outages and should allow for more people to be brought back online quicker.

Meanwhile, groups of residents will be selected and helped by ESB Networks to take part in a community led scheme to draw down on existing funding mechanisms to do deep retrofit of their homes. By being bundled together, the customers will be able to go out and tender for building services providers to carry out the work.

“It's a two strand approach where we enable the customer and the community to drive their own boat and document how that's done, but also we run down in parallel and put in all the smart controls into our system to adopt these [technologies],” Sandham explained.

Deirdre de Bhailis, manager of the Dingle Creativity and Innovation Hub, where the ESB project staff will be based for the duration of the project, says that the project will help place Dingle and the surrounding area at the centre of solutions to the challenges and opportunities posed by climate change.

“As electricity will be a significant part of the transition to a low carbon future, we welcome the decision by ESB Networks to engage with the people of the Dingle Peninsula and to explore how best the transition to a low carbon future can be facilitated. There will be opportunities for the community to learn about what is involved in the transition and help influence that transition. 

“As a community, the people of the Dingle Peninsula have always been open to innovation and our community will embrace this opportunity to help chart a pathway for Ireland’s low carbon future – one of the greatest challenges facing the world today.”

At the edge of the network

Dingle is fed by just a single line as a second would have to go through local areas of natural beauty, particularly Connor Pass, which has been ruled out.

ESB Networks will therefore monitor the outcomes of the projects in the context of their rural location in an effort to test different use cases to overcome concerns with voltage management at the edge of its network.

“Overall with putting smart switches into the homes, we'll be physically in around 1,000 homes but overall because we're actually going to be putting smart sensors into our network and sectionalising the network into shorter spans, we should effectively reduce the amount of customer minutes lost and outages for the whole peninsula which is 4,722 customers. 

The findings from the project will in turn help ESB Networks deliver an electricity network to facilitate Ireland’s transition to a low carbon future.

“Within the programme we'll be informing the business, the regulator and the national and European bodies of our findings on a six monthly basis but the whole purpose of the project is to create a rubber stamp we can continue around the rest of the country…and anything that we've found from a negative point of view not to explore it any further,” Sandham explained.

“Essentially this is our first foot forward into the overall strategy for the electrical system out to 2030, 2050 and onwards.”

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