Translating UK weather into renewable energy generation

Weather in the UK is famous for being a bit unpredictable. As a result, we often find people are still wary as to the value of installing solar technologies, despite the increase in uptake over the last few years.

A new website, WeatherEnergy, hopes to overcome this caution by helping people to see the connection between actual weather conditions and renewable energy generation.

Part of a wider European funded project, WeatherEnergy uses satellite irradiation data to give an indication of the amount of energy the average household solar PV or solar thermal installation might provide the average family the previous day, week and month. This information is provided for 58 locations around the UK from Wick to Penzance and is automatically uploaded onto the WeatherEnergy website. It also provides an indication of the number of houses that could be supplied with electricity from the UK’s operating wind turbines.

The project has been generating data for just over six months and has thrown up some perhaps previously unknown facts – Weymouth is the place to be for PV being more often than not at the top of our PV production leader board.

The data also has the ability to blow a few myths out of the water; in particular the widely-held belief that solar renewable technology is unproductive when it isn’t sunny and shuts down altogether during the winter. The inaccuracy of these beliefs will be of no surprise to those working in the solar industry and those who have already installed solar technologies, but they are still firmly held by many members of the general public and often those in a position to change things.

Throughout early November the majority of our 58 solar points were still providing production figures of between 26-35kWh a week. And even during our miserable December, solar PV in the southern half of the UK was still producing 15-20kWh.

The biggest surprise however, were the results in February which showed an average PV system in Aberdeen or Edinburgh would produce 53% and 50% respectively, of an average household’s demand. When combined with the extraordinary figures we were getting for wind that month, it looked as though Scotland was heading for energy independence.

The data is produced by incorporating statistical consumption and population data for the UK with the technical production data of the three renewable technologies (solar PV, solar thermal and wind) into the EnergizAIR software model where it is combined with meteorological data and a thermal model.

This software model uses the EPICES monitoring service to obtain irradiance data and daily ‘virtual’ PV production data for the 58 locations around the UK. By combining these with the statistical and PV production data, a figure is produced that indicates how much solar energy could have been produced at each of the 58 locations. For the solar thermal data, the software model uses insolation and temperature data [W/m²*h] collected on an hourly basis at each of the locations which is then added to a thermal model specifically designed for the project.

Weather energy infographic

To ensure the results being generated are accurate, we double check those we get for Gloucester against readings taken from the PV system on our office roof. To date, they have proved spot on, but we would like to find at least one other system somewhere in the country that we could also use to ensure the results are accurate. We’re looking for a 3kW system where someone would be happy to send us their sunny portal data.

We realise that there are still a number of issues, including many technical ones, that need addressing if we are to realise our aspirations for the uptake of renewables, but helping people to visualise the very real potential of solar technologies has got to be a start.