More than 400 solar PV system owners are taking part in a new smart grid project designed to shed light on how Britain can become low-carbon.

The Customer-led Network Revolution (CLNR) project will monitor users across the North East of England and Yorkshire to determine their energy consumption and generation habits. Trials are already underway with the data being analysed by academics from Durham University.     

The project hopes to identify how much excess electricity is generated by the solar arrays, how much is fed back into the grid and how the electricity could be used more effectively to reduce demand on electricity networks.  

Dr Liz Sidebotham, communications manager for the CLNR project, explained: “Solar power is an important part of the UK’s renewable energy mix but as more people install solar PV and adopt other types of low-carbon technologies (LCTs), Britain’s electricity networks – which were not designed to deal with these technologies in high volumes – are having to deal with new kinds of energy consumption and generation.

“The data we collect will allow us to get a better understanding of the UK’s future energy needs. Our initial findings from these trials suggest that PV customers are typically more engaged and interested in their own energy use than customers without LCTs. We also found that compared to non-PV users, they tend to use more electricity during the day, which is the time when their solar energy is generating.

“These findings are interesting because these customers may therefore consume less energy during the early evening, when there are peaks in the demand for electricity, and when the network is under most pressure.”

Therefore, the project believes that the more solar energy is generated, the less demand will be placed on local electricity networks. Dr Sidebotham added: “We are also trialling automatic load switching, whereby electricity generated by solar panels in the day is automatically used within the home, and  this could help move even more consumption into the day and reduce the early evening peak.

“Working out ways to manage peak demand is an absolutely critical part of this project if we are to ensure electricity networks can accommodate high volumes of LCTs. Through the CLNR project we’re looking at the most practical and cost-effective ways to achieve this, through solutions that give customers more choice over the way they use and generate electricity and avoid the need for costly network reinforcement.”