Microgrids for new eco-friendly housing developments in the UK

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A not-for-profit organization has launched a share offer campaign to develop new clean energy microgrid projects across the UK.

Bristol Energy Cooperative (BEC) aims to raise £1 million ($1.4 million) from its latest share offering. This adds to the roughly £14 million ($19 million) that the cooperative has raised over the decade since it was formed. Around half of this funding has come from community share offerings and bonds.

To date, BEC has developed around 9 MW peak of solar capacity, but changes to the feed-in tariff system in the UK saw the organization turn to other kinds of projects. These included a pilot project for a stand-alone Tesla battery of about 100 kW located at a new-build housing estate.

Having gained insight into how large battery systems work and how they could be used in an integrated fashion, BEC partnered with Clean Energy Prospector (CEPRO). CEPRO developed a microgrid controller to properly integrate various elements such as batteries and PV into a housing strategy.

Subsequently, BEC, CEPRO and Chelwood Community Energy partnered to create a new company, the Microgrid Foundry. This was conceived as a way to move the whole building industry toward cleaner energy.

“We started working with a few forward-thinking housing developers who wanted to build in a very sustainable way and were willing to take the time to do that,” Andy O’Brien, co-founder and director at Bristol Energy Cooperative, told Microgrid Knowledge.

Powering community housing

Bright Green Futures is such a housing company in Bristol. It was willing to work on the pioneering Water Lilies microgrid project in Kings Weston. This was the first microgrid project developed by the Microgrid Foundry, and it features 33 dwellings and a community center that are A-rated for energy. In addition, there is a total of 117 kWp of rooftop solar PV and air source heat pumps for heating and hot water. These are coupled with a 444-kWh Tesla battery linked by a 344-kVA microgrid system. EV charging is also incorporated, and completion is expected this summer.

The latest share offering will help fund a second microgrid scheme at an affordable community housing development in Bridport, Dorset, that will be the largest of its kind in the UK.

clean energy microgrid

Water Lilies, the first Microgrid Foundry community project. Video courtesy of BEC

This second microgrid project, which is only about six months behind the first one, brings together a housing association, a co-housing group and a housing developer. It is slightly larger than Water Lilies with 53 houses and a community hub with the same high standards of energy efficiency. It features 210 kWp of rooftop solar PV, air source heating for space heating and hot water, and a 566-kWh Tesla battery linked across a 580-kVA microgrid, with EV charging through a community car club.

“As the price of batteries has fallen, as we have seen with solar panels, that helps these kinds of projects stack up better financially. These schemes are now commercial,” O’Brien said.

Indeed, residents of the houses are offered energy at a lower cost than the average price of energy provided across the country. The systems will also be used to provide grid services, such as supporting frequency, to the National Grid.

“By using people power, we can raise money quickly, install more low-carbon technologies, and drive a green recovery for the region where locals feel the benefits,” O’Brien said.

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