The Advanced Digital Institute the Bradford, UK, based technology innovation company, has teamed up with a group of sustainable energy specialists as part of a major research consortium working with the Low Carbon London programme partners to study innovative ways of maintaining power supplies while decarbonising energy supplies across the UK as demand increases.

ENER-G, ADI, Flexitricity, Smarter Grid Solutions and UK Power Networks, have secured £100 000 of funding from the Technology Strategy Board, the government’s innovation agency, to explore the development of next generation virtual power plants using clusters of combined heat and power (CHP) systems to bolster supply, particularly to meet peaks in demand.

The project will investigate the feasibility of using networks of small ENER-G CHP generators, which have the flexibility and high energy efficiency to deliver a further electricity supply to local networks. A virtual power plant system requires complex software and a central control system to ensure that it reacts immediately to local supply and demand requirements.

By including a large number of smaller-scale CHP generators and associated loads into a VPP, the aim is to achieve improved flexibility and reduce stress on the network. The project aims to improve resilience, enable and incentivise low carbon and lower cost electricity production, and reduce the need for utility engineering projects.

The project will perform business and technical modelling based on data from UK Power Networks’ London electricity network, using real ENER-G CHP systems to relieve the peaks in demand. The programme will address the twin challenges of increasing demand, such as the move to electric cars, the growth of cities and rising summer temperatures, together with the UK’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions – targeted to reduce by 34% by 2020. Addressing these challenges is forecast to save the UK £8bn by 2020.

The consortium believes that their solution could make an important contribution to a lucrative global market for VPPs which, according to Pike Research, could reach $12.7 billion by 2015. The feasibility study is scheduled to be completed in May 2013.