The project originated in 2015 as an initiative to install photovoltaic (PV) systems on multiple residential roofs in two Bristol wards, Bedminster and Easton, generating savings to project participants and sharing benefits more widely through a community benefit fund. The project experienced a major setback when a drastic cut to the Feed-in Tariff was announced; this meant the original project was no longer financially viable. However, an alternative plan was devised to address the changing circumstances. A project pilot is now proposed on two streets in Easton, which would connect PV systems on multiple homes and make the energy generated available to any home on the street that wanted to join the project. Colston Road and Chelsea Park were identified as a suitable site, due to a significant reduction in construction costs through installation of the infrastructure in the back alley between the streets and a strong community support basis. The integration of battery storage would further enhance the development through making PV-generated energy available at times of low or no generation, and open up further financing avenues.
Micro-grid enhanced benefit
The unique, innovative aspect of the TWOs pilot project is connecting the PV systems together and linking them to form a microgrid with storage in a retrofit setting. A microgrid combines smart energy management, renewable energy generation, and energy storage, through private power networks across a housing development or neighbourhood. This is an innovative approach in the UK, currently only implemented in new-build contexts (and remote communities with no access to National Grid). By developing a successful retrofit demonstration project, within an existing urban neighbourhood, we hope to inspire and pave the way for other similar projects. This microgrid will mean much more of the electricity generated by the PV systems will be consumed locally, reducing losses in transmission and making financial savings.
Energy generated at a time of lower demand can also be stored in a battery unit, allowing the use of stored energy when demand is higher than generation or when no energy is generated (after dark). Battery technology and pricing have improved rapidly in recent years, and the trend is expected to continue in the near future, increasing storage capacity globally.
The micro-grid system will need to be maintained and managed by an organisation. This could be in the form of an Energy Services Company (ESCo), such as the Owen Square Community Energy company. Anyone who buys or sells power into the micro-grid can become a member or director of the ESCo and have a say/direct control over how the organisation is operated meaning residents could have as little or as much control over the running of the microgrid as they wished.