National Grid ESO is turning to machine learning to predict better when clouds will cut generation of solar electricity.

The operator is partnering with green product innovators Open Climate Fix to build a tracking system, able to match cloud movements to the precise locations of installed arrays, even on roofs of dwellings.  The tool seeks to provide greater precision than current weather forecasts.

With solar and wind turbines, a passing cloud or a shift in the breeze can lead to big shifts in supply.

“If you’re more confident in your forecast, then you don’t need to have as big of a buffer,” said Carolina Tortora, National Grid ESO’s head of innovation strategy and digital transformation. “There are a million other issues, but this is a big one.”

Solar arrays are fast to deploy; over 1GW is thought to be ready for commissioning in 2021 alone. Smaller arrays are affixed to an estimated 1.2 million roofs across the country.

Even with a perfect understanding of cloud movements, analyst say predicting exact generation is difficult.  Hence the ESO’s project to map out solar resources.

Open Climate Fix will use machine-learning to analyse satellite imagery and pinpoint if expected cloud movements will shade specific solar panels.

If all goes to plan, the data will be available to the grid’s control room operators in about six months, Tortora said.

That added insight will give ESO greater confidence in real-time power supply, allowing the company to cut down on fossil fuel reserves and have time to turn on other power sources such as batteries.

Meanwhile a ‘rent-a-roof’ initiative which installed solar arrays on Stoke-on-Trent’s social housing is facing investigation from Ofgem.

The Energy Ombudsman received nearly 600 protests in a single month about the scheme’s operator Solarplicity, before it ceased trading in 2019.  They allege the firm’s successor, Community Energy Scheme (CES) UK, also uses misleading marketing, while offering tenants cheap power.

Ofgem’s announced the probe on Friday. It will examine whether the company breached consumer protection rules.

A spokesman for CES said, “We are committed to continuous improvement and we have always voluntarily provided Ofgem with information.

“We, along with the city council, will continue to work with and assist Ofgem during this investigation.


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