Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

Supergen Project

How will the electricity network function if there are millions of small scale distributed electricity generators?

commercial buildings

The move to a low carbon future is likely to entail the deployment of small scale renewable and low carbon technologies within buildings - these might include solar photovoltaics, micro wind turbines and combined heat and power boilers. The electricity generated will first be used in the home and any excess exported to the electricity grid.

But what happens if there are millions of such devices? Whilst the small amounts being exported back to the grid is currently so small as to be negligible, these small-scale generators could cumulatively be one of the major generators of electricity. Each device would however be operating in response to climate (intensity of sunlight, wind speed, heat demand in homes), rather than in the controlled fashion of conventional centralised plant.

The localised deployment of these new power technologies is seen as offering significant benefits in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, security of supply and utilisation of electrical infrastructure. However, the deployment of new generation technologies will also require new energy storage devices, communications and control solutions, and interface technology. Furthermore this development is expected in the context of a displacement of large generators as they reach retiral and within an electrical network developed on the premise of "many loads – few sources".

This consortium is investigating how to co-ordinate many small distributed energy resources, DERs, such that they contribute to (and are rewarded for) the effective operation of the power system. Such an arrangement is known as a highly distributed power system (HDPS). Research will identify whether network support functions should be provided by co-ordination of the multitude of low cost distributed sources or whether these functions should be concentrated in larger dedicated items of equipment.

Key Objectives

The main objectives of the £2.5m consortium's programme of work are as follows:

  • Identify the most effective conceptual design for the realisation of a highly distributed power system (HDPS)
  • Creation of an integrated appraisal framework for the economic, environmental and technical assessment of HDPS
  • Assessment of market transformation and network access approaches in support of HDPS development.
  • Realise a simulation facility capable of characterising, modelling and appropriately analysing the behaviour of a HDPS
  • Engineering of management and control system for effective coordination of DERs in HDPS
  • Realisation of DER inverter interface and control modes compatible with HDPS control, protection and power quality requirements
  • Demonstration of modular DER integration and interfacing

As part of the consortium, the Environmental Change Institute will be carrying out a wide range of studies including modelling of photovoltaic systems, modelling of demand, and addressing the required policy and market framework to implement a highly distributed power system.

Further Links

Supergen website

Project details