A £10.8 million project on the Isles of Scilly off southwest England will provide a model for low-carbon smart energy systems around the world. Electric vehicles and smart home batteries will be used to help balance supply and demand within the islands’ energy system.

The Smart Energy Islands (SEI) project, part financed by £8.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund, will develop systems that can be replicated worldwide to help communities to make a rapid transition from a high-carbon to a low-carbon economy. Its work on the Scilly Isles will lay the foundations for the wider Smart Islands programme, which aims by 2025 to cut electricity bills by 40 per cent, meet 40 per cent of energy demand through renewables and see 40 per cent of vehicles being electric or low carbon.

The project will use home batteries, electric vehicles and smart heating technologies to balance supply and demand of electricity. By easing pressures on the islands’ energy system, it will allow them to scale up renewable generation and increase their energy independence.

The Isles of Scilly face unique challenges due to their remote location 28 miles from the UK mainland. The 2,200 islanders have no gas supply and rely heavily on imported fossil fuels and electricity to meet their needs, resulting in one of the UK’s highest household electricity consumption levels. However, the islands have a low wage economy, dominated by tourism and agriculture. A combination of high fuel costs and large numbers of homes with inefficient heating systems means they have one of the highest rates of fuel poverty in the country, affecting 22 per cent of households.

The island group currently has 270kW of renewable power, mainly from rooftop solar panels. The SEI project will more than double this. It will see rooftop solar PV systems installed in 100 homes, a tenth of the island’s housing stock, and two 50kW solar gardens will be built. They will deliver 448kW of renewable energy and reduce the islands’ carbon footprint.

As part of the SEI project, a battery management systems will enable homes with solar panels to save money by using more of the power they generate. They will also be able to import or export energy to balance local needs.

Energy management systems will be installed in the 100 solar homes and energy monitoring in 190 of the islands’ businesses. Ten of these will be smart homes piloting a variety of additional smart energy technologies including smart batteries and air source heat pumps, which have the potential to significantly increase savings from solar PV.

Systems by battery technology company Moixa and home energy management specialists PassivSystems will integrate with an Internet of Things (IoT) platform developed by Hitachi Europe, which is leading the SEI project. 

Chris Wright, Chief Technology Officer at Moixa, said: “Our systems will support the reduction of fuel poverty on the Scilly Isles and support their path to full energy independence. They will be scaleable and flexible so they can be replicated easily to allow communities all over the world to cut carbon and benefit from the smart power revolution.”

An electric vehicle management system will also control and optimise how electric car batteries can be used by the islands’ energy system. It will develop learning algorithms to ensure that when electric vehicles are deployed they are maintained at a state of charge best able to support the energy system and the needs of their users.

Electric vehicles are said to be set to play a major part in the global transition to a low-carbon economy. Fourteen countries plan to put 13 million electric vehicles on the roads by 2020, and with 60 per cent annual growth they could make up a third of the road transport market by 2035.

The significance of the Smart Islands project is corroborated by advice this week to the Government by the Council for Science and Technology: “Successful innovation in electricity network technologies, including smart technologies and all forms of energy storage, could save the energy system around £4.4 billion, support the growth of a UK industry and contribute an estimated £5.1 billion to GDP by 2050.”

Photo: Tom Walton