Solar panels provide power at night for the first time in the UK

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Photoshopped image of what a solar farm might look like during night time operation.

Lightsource BP has become the first company in the UK to provide a reactive power service from a solar plant at night.

In a successful plant trial, which took place on Monday 4th November, the company used one of its solar plants in East Sussex to provide a reactive power voltage support service at night.

The reactive power service was delivered through UK Power Networks’ distribution network and has the potential to help National Grid ESO manage voltage on the transmission network.

Kareen Boutonnat, Chief Operating Officer at Lightsource BP, commented: “The success of this trial clearly demonstrates that innovation is key in addressing the future growth of the energy sector. With electricity demand increasing so rapidly we have to be in a constant state of evolution in order to solve the problems of the future.

“Right now, we have proven that solar plants can play a larger role across the electricity network – even at night.

“However, it is only the beginning and as our team continue to develop and support this project, we will remain focused on pushing the boundaries and forging partnerships to remain a leading innovator across our sector.”

National Grid ESO confirmed that this is the first night-time grid support service from a solar asset in the UK.

Reactive power is the ability to maintain voltage levels on electricity transmission systems.

This allows more energy to be transported down existing infrastructure and therefore increases capacity without the need for infrastructure upgrades.

Inverters within a solar plant are able to provide reactive power by reducing or increasing voltage levels.

They can deliver the voltage change necessary at a grid supply point, which is managed by National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO).

The trial follows three years of testing and development and forms part of the joint National Grid ESO and UK Power Networks ‘Power Potential’ project, which aims to create a new reactive power market for distributed energy resources (DERs) in the South East.

Dr. Biljana Stojkovska, National Grid Electricity System Operator, Power Potential Project lead, said: “As we move towards our 2025 ambition of being able to operate the GB electricity system carbon free we are seeing more renewable generation come online, such as wind and solar, which in turn requires finding new ways of managing system characteristics like voltage.

“This innovative trial, which forms part of our Power Potential project, is an exciting first step. We look forward to seeing it progress over the coming months as we explore new reactive power markets for distributed energy resources, and their potential to cut costs for energy consumers.”

Lightsource BP worked with UK Power Networks and National Grid ESO on Power Potential to deliver this important milestone in an initiative which has the potential to save UK energy customers over £400m by 2050 and provide up to an additional 4 GW of power capacity in the South East region of the UK.

The test was coordinated with UK Power Networks’ control engineers who monitored to ensure network safety and reliability with no adverse customer impact.

Dr. Rita Shaw, UK Power Networks, Power Potential Project lead, added: “We are delighted to have successfully supported Lightsource BP to facilitate the participation of its solar plant in our reactive power trials.

“It is one of many examples of innovative collaboration with our distribution connected generation customers, in building the foundations for our Distribution System Operator (DSO) transition.”