The trial will connect more than 150 homes and businesses. Image: Centrica.

Centrica is to launch a £19 million pilot project which will assess the development of a virtual energy marketplace with renewables and storage at its heart.

The programme will see Centrica’s distributed energy division work alongside Western Power Distribution, National Grid and the University of Exeter to develop a virtual market place for more than 150 homes and businesses in Cornwall.

Starting next spring, Centrica will work with renewable generators and offer free smart technology upgrades to selected local residents, businesses and other large energy users. These will include new energy storage systems and micro-combined heat and power (CHP) systems.

It is understood that no technology suppliers have been lined up as yet.

Centrica will then connect the trial’s participants with local renewable generators via an online virtual market place, allowing them to sell energy capacity to both the grid and the wholesale energy market at times of increased or decreased demand.

Jorge Pikunic, managing director at Centrica Distributed Energy & Power, said that the trial’s ambition was to explore how battery storage, flexible demand and generation can reduce pressure on the grid and support future decarbonisation.

“This is a unique opportunity for us to work together with local businesses and homes to unlock new approaches that can give consumers more control of their energy, both here in the UK and potentially around the world. I believe this is a clear example of how the energy landscape could look in future – a truly decentralised market where energy is smarter, greener and cheaper,” he said.

Western Power Distribution is currently developing the software which will manage the virtual marketplace, while National Grid is to help co-ordinate with the local energy market. A new office is soon to be opened in Truro where a team of 23 project managers, technical expects and software developers will deliver the project.

The trial is being jointly funded by Centrica and the British Gas Energy for Tomorrow Fund, which will provide £6 million, as well as a £13 million grant from the European Regional Development Fund.

Centrica’s trial of a local, decentralised marketplace for energy with renewables at its heart bears a resemblance to Good Energy’s Piclo project, which partnered local renewable generators with businesses during a six-month trial earlier this year. The trial’s success culminated in the commercial launch of Selectricity last month.

Centrica stepped up its decentralised energy play in May this year when it spent £145 million to acquire CHP specialists ENER-G, adding to a division which already maintained a thriving solar installation arm and energy management systems supplier Panoramic Power.