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Innovation award for “Virtual Power Plants” network

A plan to harness so-called Virtual Power Plants for cooling and heating homes and businesses has won a major national award for innovation.

The top innovation award was presented at the Cooling Industry Awards 2013, in London in September.

Virtual Power Plants use heat pumps, running on virtually frictionless magnetic bearings, to generate and store reservoirs of thermal energy which can be used to supply heating and cooling.

The organisations running the project, Klima-Therm, Next Controls, thEnergy and Imperial College, believe that a network of such community-based Virtual Power Plants across the UK could provide a national renewable energy infrastructure to run alongside and support the increasingly vulnerable National Grid.

Advanced heat pumps powered by Turbomiser chillers, or Rhoss Polyvalent heat pump and heat recovery systems, can achieve a Total Efficiency Ratio (TER) of up to 20. This means they can deliver up to twenty times more thermal energy than they use in the form of electricity. This compares to typical stand-alone systems delivering efficiencies of between 3 and 5 TER.

With a capacity of up to 10MW each, the plants can generate high efficiency, low carbon energy to augment conventional electricity supplies.

Virtual Power Plants can be highly responsive, able to respond very quickly to surges in demand for heating or cooling, in a way not possible with traditional large scale power plants.

“Around a third of the UK’s conventional power generating capacity is due to become obsolete over the next few years,” said Roberto Mallozzi, managing director of Klima-Therm. “This presents a serious vulnerability and is a major strategic issue that has yet to be addressed.”

“We believe that with their outstanding efficiency, a UK-wide network of Virtual Power Plants could provide the answer, while adding resilience and a vital energy safety net for the nation.”

“It is the ability to generate and store “comfort” energy – in the form of both heat and ‘coolth’ – that is the virtual power aspect,” said Tim Mitchell, director of Klima-Therm. “This enables you to effectively load shift demand from the grid to the Virtual Power Plants, thereby providing crucial headroom during periods of peak power consumption.

“All the energy normally used at peak times to heat or cool can be used to do other things if the heat or coolth is already generated and stored; for example, in phase change material. Alternatively, the peak generation capacity could be reduced to reflect the shifted load.”

Virtual Power Plants can improve the delivered efficiency of existing renewable energy technologies by aggregating, and enable demand to be actively managed.

With Virtual Power Plants in operation, it should never again become necessary for wind farm operators to be paid to come “off-grid”, the companies say.

The next stage of the plan is to establish a commercial scale pilot plant to demonstrate the concept, followed by roll-out and full commercialisation.

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Energy efficiency  •  Energy infrastructure  •  Energy storage including Fuel cells