Roof covered with solar panels

Solar panel owners could share excess electricity with neighbours

Image credit: Dreamstime

Research conducted at the University of Huddersfield suggests that clusters of houses with solar panels installed could share the electricity they generate, rather than sending excess electricity to the national grid.

There are already 1.5 million UK homes with solar panels installed. This could increase to 10 million by 2020 as increasingly homeowners are attracted by the falling price of solar panels, lower energy bills and a reduction in CO2 emissions.

Rooftop solar panels generate electricity from sunlight, which is fed into the house’s mains electricity supply. If a homeowner is able to make the most of this self-generated electricity during the day while the sun is shining – such as by heating water or using a slow cooker – they could pay less to their electricity supplier as a result.

Excess electricity is sent to the national grid; the UK government currently offers a feed-in tariff, whereby solar panel owners can receive payments from energy suppliers for generating extra electricity.

However, a new approach proposed by Mahmoud Dhimish – a PhD student at the University of Huddersfield –would allow households with solar panels to share their excess electricity with their neighbours.

“Currently, individual consumers generate electricity from their PV installations and if they are unable to use it, they export it to the network,” said Mr Dhimish. “PV outputs vary unpredictably, as do the electricity demands of each consumer, so supply and demand is difficult to match.”

This could be achieved by considering the “demand diversity” among nearby houses, which could be monitored and managed using the emerging Internet of Things, and a form of energy storage between clusters of houses.

A new system for fault detection developed by Dhimish and other Huddersfield researchers could also help households monitor and maintain efficiency of their solar panels. A new algorithm uses statistical methods to simulate the theoretical performance of solar panels while monitoring their actual performance, and then compare the values to detect and diagnose faults.

Real-world testing in a solar plant at the university demonstrated the effectiveness of the monitoring system.

Mr Dhimish hopes that in the future, his research could lead to the development of monitoring units directly operated by households, or remotely using the cloud.

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