British village gets solar battery boost in green energy trial

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Villagers in northern England may soon see their electricity bills slashed by as much as 50 percent in a pilot project allowing them to use solar power around the clock.

In a 250,000 pound ($307,000) trial, 40 houses in the village of Oxspring, 12 miles (19 km) north of Sheffield, will be linked in a “virtual power plant” using home batteries to store electricity generated from solar panels.

Without batteries, solar power can only be used during the day. On sunny days, when a lot of electricity is being generated but the demand is low, surplus energy is exported back to the grid.

This creates problems with older networks that are unable to deal with extra energy without costly upgrades, limiting how many houses can use solar panels.

The project, financed by energy supplier Northern Powergrid, is the first to analyze how linking batteries can allow more households to install solar panels without expensive upgrades to the grid.

“Batteries will play a key role in the smart energy system of the future, keeping costs down for customers whilst allowing the power network to support greater concentrations of solar power,” said Andrew Spencer, a systems expert with Northern Powergrid.

Solar panels on average can cut electricity bills by up to 30 percent and batteries can add extra savings of up to 20 percent by allowing households to use stored solar energy at night, Northern Powergrid said in a statement.

Using the batteries will make electricity grids more efficient and reduce the need for back-up power from coal, oil and gas, it said.

The first batteries will be installed in Oxspring at the end of January.