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Corby microgrid: developing smart energy of the future

Corby microgrid: developing smart energy of the future

The way we generate and deliver energy is changing fundamentally and placing new pressures on the grid at a national and local level.

Wind and solar energy varies with the weather and seasons and does not always match the demand for electricity to power our homes and businesses or to charge the growing number of electric vehicles.

More and more of our future energy will be generated at a local level from solar panels on domestic and business rooftops.

New smart grids will allow households and businesses to sell electricity to each other and to national grids when they have too much and buy it when they have a need or buy it cheaply when they have capacity to store it. But this trading environment brings new challenges.

Anthony Morgan, director of Power Transition, said:

When you apply this system to energy it can mean thousands or millions of transactions every second. There are millions of kilowatts being produced, and they must all be tracked during their entire lifecycles.

Microgrids are using traditional blockchain technology to make the transactions, but it takes a significant amount of time and processing power for each transaction to take place. There is a natural limit to the number of transactions you can do with blockchain. When you apply it to energy at a large scale, it can’t work.

Professor Andrew Chitty

Energy trading platform promises faster transactions

Power Transition won funding from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to lead a £195,000 project to show how a next-generation blockchain system can deliver faster transactions on a new green housing development in Corby, Northamptonshire.

Blockchain is a series of encrypted transactions that cannot be copied and that was originally used for digital currency such as Bitcoin. Blockchain technologies such as Ethereum are now being used for small-scale energy transactions.

Power Transition uses a new generation of blockchain technology developed by a US company, Hedera Hashgraph. Much less computer power is needed to prove the transactions, saving both time and energy use.

Additionally, Hedera Hashgraph comes with many benefits out-of-the-box. These include stability, fairness, decentralised governance and integrated private and public network application development toolkits.

Anthony added:

Visa can do about 24,000 transactions per second. We can do in excess of 100,000 transactions per second. Compare that to Ethereum, and they can do 55.

The platform can automatically analyse whether to store excess energy in a battery or to trade it and get the best price for the household, business or organisation.

Read about more projects supported by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

System is being tested on eco-development

Power Transition is a joint venture set up by Carbon Free Group, a community interest company, and Guard Global, a systems development business specialising in sustainable development.

Anthony, who is also a director of Carbon Free Group, added:

Carbon Free Group has designed a community of 47 homes that sits in a wider development of 5,500 houses. They all have a significant amount of energy generation on the roofs and they have battery storage. It was an ideal opportunity for us to make this a testbed for the new trading platform.

This is all about how you take the benefit of a microgrid and how you operate that over a national network. It’s about how everybody benefits, especially the end user.

Technology could be widely used across the world

Power Transition won £91,000 from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s Prospering from the Energy Revolution Challenge to develop the platform and assess its impact.

Electric Corby community interest company won £16,000 to support work on community buy-in and to teach households how to get the best results from using it.

Cardiff University won £49,000 to look at the case for the use of the technology, at future business cases for its adoption and at the impact of future changes in legislation.

The project hopes to demonstrate the technology in 3 or 4 homes. It then plans to seek funding for a 2-year project to demonstrate how it could be used across Corby and ultimately anywhere in the UK or across the world.

Anthony added:

We have interest from an American company that wants to come in as partners to develop the platform for the US and South Africa as well as from a couple of island nations who feel this will be helpful to their energy stability and economies.

“The long-term aim is to build something that can be used out in the wider market, and we will then sell a licence to whoever wants to use it.