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Top marks for Oxfordshire primary school in one-of-a-kind sustainable school trial

Partnership between Smarter Grid Solutions and the Low Carbon Hub demonstrates potential of community energy

A primary school in Oxfordshire could pave the way to greater sustainability and cost-savings in schools nationwide thanks to a one-of-a-kind trial of green energy storage on school grounds.

The trial brings together clean energy tech experts Smarter Grid Solutions and the Low Carbon Hub, a pioneering community energy organisation, to explore avenues to empower local communities to make the most out of the green transition. It’s one of several initiatives that together form Project LEO (Local Energy Oxfordshire), one of the UK’s most ambitious and innovative energy trials.

Rose Hill Primary School, part of the River Learning Trust, in Oxfordshire is taking part in the trial that could have wide-reaching benefits for the education sector. The trial has adopted a two-step approach. Firstly, a battery has been installed on site to store excess energy generated from the school’s solar panels, so that the school can run on clean energy during overcast or evening periods.

Secondly, a high-tech management platform, known as a distributed energy resources management system (DERMS), has been connected to monitor and manage the electricity generated and stored at the school. This technology is currently most commonly used to monitor the output of larger-scale wind farms or solar PV farms. The trial is testing how such technology can be used on a smaller scale, so that local organisations can access the benefits of renewable resources and the green energy transition.

The school’s solar panels were installed in 2016 by the Low Carbon Hub, but the extra electricity generated during school holidays or sunny times of the year has never been captured. The panels can generate a maximum of 28kWp (14 kettles at once) and produce a total 23,000kwh of electricity a year, the equivalent of powering 6 houses. The school has saved hundreds of pounds on electricity bills each year, with around 30% of their electricity being provided by the panels.

The new battery has the capacity to store up to 50kWh, enough to power the school for 12 hours and so can clock up more savings even when the sun isn’t out. Any excess solar that can't be captured can be sold to the electricity grid. This generates additional revenue that the Low Carbon Hub pumps back into local community projects, such as providing grants, energy audits for community buildings and schools, and free practical support to low carbon community groups.

The trial’s objective is to provide real-time monitoring and control of renewable resources and batteries, exploring the potential for community organisations, schools, businesses, homes and other local buildings to generate and manage their own electricity and participate in grid flexibility services. The Low Carbon Hub owns the renewable resources installed at Rose Hill, which is acting as a test bed to see how similar schemes could reduce bills and measure carbon savings for local energy users whilst generating revenue for the community.

Specialist software developed by energy tech company Smarter Grid Solutions has been deployed to monitor and manage the PV and battery, or ‘distributed energy resources’ (DERs). The software, called Cirrus Flex, and accompanying monitoring and control equipment reveals how much energy the solar panels are generating compared to how much the school needs, as well as how much back-up power is stored in the battery.

Ben Kirley, Project Manager at Smarter Grid Solutions who is overseeing the deployment of the smart energy management system, said: “We are greatly encouraged by the success of the project at Rose Hill Primary School. By building smart and flexible community energy projects we can create a network of renewable resources that support local needs whilst building resilience into the electricity system as a whole.

“Our Distributed Energy Resource Management System (DERMS) monitors the electricity generated by local resources to supply onsite buildings, cutting carbon emissions and energy bills. When the electricity isn’t needed, the software manages the charging of the battery storage and the export and sale of the green electricity back to the grid. We have added new capabilities to our products to make sure that the full range of new clean energy technologies can deliver customer and system net zero carbon while creating financial value – this project is an excellent reference point for that.”

Mairi Brookes, Smart Energy Systems Director at the Low Carbon Hub said: “We are at an exciting yet challenging time: the energy system is changing to allow for increasing local renewable generation and storage; we’re electrifying transport, with heating after that. Smart energy systems are about using digital technologies to operate all the new generation and storage, and to be clever about when our cars charge and how our heating systems operate so that we can address climate change, ensure the lights are on and get the most out of clean energy assets for everyone.

“The work that the Low Carbon Hub is doing with SGS is critical to preparing our community energy portfolio to operate in that smart and flexible manner and I’m thrilled with the progress we’re making with our battery and solar panel installations in Rose Hill in Oxford.”

Since the school’s solar panels were installed in 2016, they have been a valuable educational resource for teachers to educate students on climate change and clean energy. It is hoped that the new battery can serve a similar purpose in expanding pupils’ understanding of ways to avoid wasting electricity.

Sue Vernes, Headteacher of Rose Hill Primary said, “We are delighted to have had our solar storage battery installed on the school site. It is a visual reminder to children of how we can use renewable, low-carbon sources of energy. For many, it ties in with the work that has gone on in their houses. We are proud that Rose Hill is in the vanguard of this work. Young children are worried about the future of the planet and they feel that this is something which is helping with the issue of climate change.”

Highly-localised renewable resources are considered a crucial component in decarbonisation efforts. The project at Rose Hill is part of wider efforts to find solutions for how local clean energy infrastructure can be developed and deployed with maximum benefit to local communities. The integration of sophisticated software for managing resources optimises energy assets to deliver their full value, whether for cutting carbon, reducing air pollution or cutting energy bills.

Specific capabilities being explored at Rose Hill include capturing data for reporting, checking performance and capturing financial incentives. Other areas the trial will explore include future market opportunities, integration to the local Distribution System Operator (DSO) grid to make the most of its need for flexibility services, and other benefits to the local community and infrastructure. Once integrated into a local energy system, the software will have ongoing upgrades to add new capabilities, such as carbon tracking.

Other community energy projects that Smarter Grid Solutions will connect to the platform include the Low Carbon Hub solar array at Thames Travel Bus Depot and the 440 kilowatt Sandford Hydro scheme, due to be integrated in September this year.

The Rose Hill trial is part of Project LEO (Local Energy Oxfordshire), an Innovate UK funded project. Project LEO is one of the UK’s most ambitious and innovative energy trials, seeking to accelerate the UK’s transition to a zero-carbon energy system. Running trials across Oxfordshire, the project aims to understand how new technologies and services, particularly at the ‘edge’ of the network – closest to where people are using energy – can benefit local people, communities and the energy system.