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The CLNR project investigates whether solar PV owners would benefit from using more of the energy they generate instead of exporting it back to the grid.

New academic research has shown that UK consumers with solar photovoltaic (PV) technology are often too focused on the financial benefits of selling the electricity they generate back to the grid when they could be using more of it themselves.

The study, by the University of Durham as part of the Customer-Led Network Revolution (CLNR) project, found that solar PV owners were highly informed about their energy usage but that many were not aware they could be saving on their energy bills by using more of the power they generate in the home.

Currently, anyone with electricity-generating technology from a renewable or low-carbon source benefits from the government’s Feed-In Tariffs scheme (FITs), which pays the PV owner for the electricity they generate and for the electricity they export to the grid..

Dr Liz Sidebotham of Northern Powergrid, said: “The Customer-Led Network Revolution and other LCN-funded projects of its kind are investigating what’s needed to support the UK’s transition to a low carbon economy, where technologies such as solar PV, electric vehicles and heat pumps are commonplace.

“Our research has shown that solar PV owners tend to be the most aware and informed when it comes to energy usage. This leads to more active ways of relating to energy, whereby individuals engage in the calculation of their own consumption and generation, as well as in monitoring and managing their use to a greater extent than in other households.

“We also found that the uptake of PV is being driven by new conventions focused on investment, with owners focused on the potential financial returns that PV can bring, based on the logic of ‘exporting’ electricity to earn a return from the FIT scheme.

“Onsite use of power isn’t widely recognised as a way to maximise financial benefits for PV owners, even though the cost of electricity proves that it’s economically sensible for them to use as much as possible so they don’t have to buy electricity from a supplier.”

Recent figures from UK trade body the Solar Trade association (STA) estimate that the UK’s total installed solar capacity generated from homes, buildings and solar farms is now around 4.7 gigawatts. The contribution of solar to UK electricity generation peaked at a record 7.8% of daytime electricity demand on 21 June this year.

With greater use of renewable energy sources and the electrification of transport and heating playing a central role in government plans to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, the CLNR project aims to help UK electricity network operators better understand and plan for the impact of solar PV and other low carbon loads on local electricity networks.

Traditionally, network operators have dealt with any new demands placed on the powergrid by reinforcing the network. CLNR is exploring smarter alternatives that will make the most of existing assets and defer the need for costly network reinforcement.

Dr Sidebotham added: “Solar PV has enormous potential as one of the most popular low carbon technologies in the UK and this study has provided us with some really interesting insights. For example, we have seen that by equipping PV owners with smart meters and in-home energy monitors they were able to better understand and manage their own energy use and generation.

“It gives PV owners the knowledge to help them cut their energy bills further and become even more energy self-sufficient, lessening the flow of PV-generated energy back onto the networks.

“This could be hugely beneficial to the UK electricity industry, allowing more PV to be installed without the need for investment in network infrastructure, helping the UK on its way to achieving its decarbonisation targets in a more cost-effective way.”

Led by Northern Powergrid, the electricity distribution network operator for the Northeast and Yorkshire and funded by Ofgem’s Low Carbon Networks Fund, the CLNR project is the largest of its kind in the UK, and is being completed in partnership with British Gas, Durham University, Newcastle University and EA Technology.

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