Photovoltaics for Future Societies

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy

Abstract

Globally, humanity faces profound challenges in meeting increasing energy demand in the face of climate change and peak oil. The development and application of small-scale technologies for energy conversion and energy efficiency is an essential component amongst the collection of strategies that will be necessary to confront these challenges. Technological progress in this field is swift with new development promising leaps in cost reduction, efficiency and in flexibility of application. However, regardless of technical efficiency, new technologies will only make a difference as long as they are successfully integrated into people's living environments. First generation PV is well established as part of low carbon energy strategies, most notably in highly developed states like Germany and Japan. Its application is now extending rapidly as efficiencies improve and costs come down as a result of government support. Nevertheless, PV has vast unrealised potential, as a relatively efficient means of generating electricity which can be utilised in a far wider range of situations than competing technologies like wind, water or biomass. PV is therefore uniquely disruptive in its potential to eventually enable most consumers of energy to become producers of energy. The realisation of this potential will require significant further reductions in cost along with a massive increase manufacturing volumes. Two emerging technologies that promise such low cost and high volume, at relatively high and steadily improving power efficiency are organic photovoltaics (OPV) (Dresden based spin out Heliatek recently report power conversion efficiency of 7.7%) and the luminescent solar concentrator (LSC), where manufacturing methods employing low cost raw materials and roll-to-roll or high-speed sheet deposition are the focus of significant effort.We will use a participatory approach that involves architects, engineers, residents and facilitators as well as social and physical scientists to research next generation photovoltaic devices and systems for deployment into two different case study locations. These locations will social housing projects operated by Sheffield City Council and urban high-rise buildings in Bangladesh. These locations present users with not only cultural differences but differences of energy infrastructure, norms of energy use, radical differences in built environment and tenure. The project will address factors that potentially limit the uptake of low cost next generation PV in these (and other) locations. Factors that are critical when step reductions in cost for these next generation technologies have to be balanced against a reduction in intrinsic stability of organic materials when compared to their inorganic counter part. These are: firstly, the role of lifetime and reliability and how replacement and maintenance fit socially into a low cost PV solution; secondly, the social 'advantage' of such technology in terms of aesthetics & form given the ability to engineer flexible and differently coloured PV devices using organic materials; and finally, the effectiveness of complete PV power conversion systems and how to make the most of social advantages while preserving technical requirements. Critical to the proposed programme of work is to position these challenges within packages of social science research, in such a way that the development of our scientific and technical thinking can feed from this work and develop in a recursive manner.

Planned Impact

We consider one of the greatest risks to engineering and physical science research is the development of technologies and process that actually fail once released into the real world. In this case, we define failure as a lack of acceptance and uptake by the intended end user, thereby rendering the new technology or process redundant. These failures effectively represent a waste of the resources that have been consumed during the development process. It is clear to see that reducing the failure rate of new and emerging technologies will improve the efficiency and productivity of engineering and science. Within this project, we wish to research a new approach to the development of technology; one that that minimises the aforementioned risk of failure in society, whilst still encouraging innovation and creativity on the part of the research community. The approach we wish to investigate will involve the integration of social scientific thinking and practices into traditional research and development processes with the engineering and physical sciences. Furthermore, this integrated approach could also be applied beyond the academic community in the commercial and industrial sectors, and we intend to make significant progress towards this goal also. The core principle of the approach can be defined as the need for researchers within engineering and physical science to appreciate the complex and inter-connected social systems (emotion and behaviour) into which new technologies and processes are released. We have several high impact potentials: firstly in changing the consumption habits and microgeneration capability of our residents and other end users of PV; secondly by improving the general processes and methods which scientists and engineers use when developing new technological solutions; thirdly by developing socially and technically valuable improvements to emerging PV technologies.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Film - "Off the Grid" 
Description An ethnographic film about life on Sandwip Island Bangladesh - about how solar energy transforms or otherwise the lives of people living on Sandwip. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact shown at Freedom week at Rich Mix Cultural Foundation On Light Exhibition at The Wellcome Collection Open City Documentary Festival, London Brief Encounters Film Festival. Bristol 
URL http://soulrebelfilms.com/project
 
Description We set out to investigate whether participatory research methods could be applies with substantial and reciprocal success in upstream energy technologies. We found that participatory approaches work only in the down stream, but we propose that mutual cooperation can be mutually beneficial

We also found that there is a tension between the localisation of energy generation and the planning and delivery of low carbon energy in the public good. We suggest government pay much closer attention to the long term planning of energy futures.
Exploitation Route We continue to work with National Grid as part of an ongoing research and development project to calculate transmission network power flows.
Sectors Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://www.solar.sheffield.ac.uk/
 
Description #1 PV_Live family of services: Between 2010 and 2017 over 800,000 individual solar PV systems (with a rated capacity of 13 GW) have been installed across Great Britain producing up to 10 GW of electrical power that is either consumed near to the installation site or exported into the national electricity networks. The net impact of this "embedded" solar PV electricity generation is to reduce the demand for conventional electricity generation. The GB electricity system operator (a highly regulated division of National Grid PLC) must balance the demand and generation of electricity at any given moment, for the entire electricity network. To do this "balancing" the system operator relies on accurate forecasts of electricity demand and also forecasts of the embedded generation from solar PV (and wind). In order to construct accurate forecasts of solar PV, the system operator needs an accurate measurement of historical PV generation. It is the provision of an accurate measurement of solar PV generation that is the subject of this impact case. Prior to April 2016 the system operator at National Grid relied on a relatively inaccurate approach to estimating the PV generation by converting relatively sparse irradiation measurements into a national solar PV out turn. In April 2016 National Grid started to use a new methodology and service (online at https://www.solar.sheffield.ac.uk/pvlive/) that was developed by researchers working in the physics department at Sheffield University (under the group name "Sheffield Solar") The immediate impact of the use of the new method was a reduction in demand forecast error of 130 MW. (To benchmark the economic benefit of this saving in £, National Grid estimate that each additional 10 MW of demand forecast error requires 10 MW of reserve electricity generation capacity costing approximately £1m. 130 MW reduction in error has the potential to save £13m pa. However because the PV forecasting error is only one component of the overall electricity demand forecast error the saving in PV forecast error doesn't propagate immediately into this maximium possible financial saving. In fact the actual financial benefit is very difficult to quantify and a subject of much discussion within the innovation and operations teams of National Grid. Hopefully they have some answers by the time of final submission) In addition to the immediate economic impact of the new "PV_Live" methodology to National Grid, there are series of wider economic and societal impacts on the energy sector. Prior to the publication of PV_Live, the sector had no reliable measurement of PV electricity on the GB network. This is evidenced by the fact that "everyone" now uses the PV_Live service - it is the only GB benchmark for PV measurement. Without PV_Live the GB electricity sector would not have the foresight and confidence about PV that it does and current and future investment decisions (from network operation development to power plant installation) would be slower - slowing the overall decarbonisation of GB electricity #2 Renewable upper Don energy group inaugurated. #3 Public forum on Microgen database inaugurated
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Energy,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description DECC solar strategy
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/249277/UK_Solar_PV_Strateg...
 
Description DEFRA secondment - project researcher was seconded to DEFRA for 4 months
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Network Innovation Allowance. National Grid
Amount £426,000 (GBP)
Funding ID PV monitoring phase 3. Network Innovation Allowance. National Grid 
Organisation National Grid Network Innovation Allowance (NIA) 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 02/2021
 
Description PV live - nowcasting UK solar power
Amount £322,000 (GBP)
Funding ID R142905 
Organisation The National Grid Co plc 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2015 
End 05/2017
 
Description PV monitoring phase 2 - extension
Amount £49,000 (GBP)
Funding ID R142905 
Organisation National Grid Network Innovation Allowance (NIA) 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2017 
End 10/2017
 
Description Whole System Impacts and Socio-economics of wide scale PV integration (WISE PV)
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/K022229/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2013 
End 08/2016
 
Title Interdisciplinary toolkit 
Description The tool kit assists in the effective practice of interdisciplinary research. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The toolkit has informed learning and teaching practice at the universities of Sheffield, Newcastle and Durham. 
URL http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/idtoolkit
 
Title Microgen Database 
Description Collection of UK photovoltaic microgeneration electricity data 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2013 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Investment advice to Sheffield City Council regarding large scale social housing PV deployment Performance data for UK life cycle analysis - Manchester Tyndall 
URL http://www.microgen-database.org.uk
 
Title PV live 
Description 30 minutely GB PV capacity estimate and historical database 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact National Grid use this as part of their system operation 
URL https://www.solar.sheffield.ac.uk/pvlive/
 
Title Microgen database monthly reporting 
Description Peer to peer comparison tools for PV installation performance 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact Site users cite the comparison outputs to prove poor installation and get refund. 4 cases. 
URL http://www.microgen-database.org.uk/
 
Title PV_Live API 
Description An API to allow real time access to the UK's PV generation 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact Reduction in uncertainty in national electricity demand - 
URL http://www.solar.sheffield.ac.uk/pvlive/
 
Description BIS outreach visit to Sheffield Solar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A half day workshop on the state of the solar industry and supply chain in the UK
designed to inform the energy economics team in the department of business skills and innovation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Future build public conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The SEFS project part funded and ran a parallel session in this policy - practice conference on sustainable development in city regions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.futurebuild.eu/
 
Description Photovoltaics for future societies 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience
Results and Impact magazine article.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Political party conference talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Talk about energy and energy policy at the 2015 liberal democrat political party conference
Lisa Clark gave the talk
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015