Monthly Archives: March 2020

Tonic solar, a little light music

As winter turned to spring my thoughts for my HEMS turned to thinking about how to adjust the operation of the HEMS in managing battery charging to account for anticipated solar production. Previously the HEMS was configured to buy a preset number of hours of charge from the grid each day, typically overnight when the power tends to be cheapest. Through 2019 as the seasons changed I periodically adjusted this figure to create headroom to store charge from the solar panels later in the day. However I would like to make this adjustment automatically day by day.

Late last year I came across solcast a website that predicts the output of solar panels. The user creates an account, describes their PV array (location, capacity and orientation), and can then download predictions via API.

Solar prediction for the next three days

The orange line shows the predicted output for the next few days, with the light grey area showing the confidence interval from 10 to 90%. As a prediction there’s a degree of uncertainty associated with the prediction as there is with a weather forecast. The 10% line shows that 1 day in 10 the output will be lower than the grey area, while the 90% line shows that 1 day in 10 then output will be higher than the grey area.

My original prediction were based on the orange line (the 50th percentile) where output was equally likely to be above or below this amount. However my risk on an incorrect prediction is not even. If I fail to buy enough power from the grid when the price is low then I risk paying up to 35p/kWh to buy when the price is high, whereas if I buy an unnecessary cheap kWh from the grid I may spend an unnecessary 5p/kWh on average. Thus I decided to take a more conservative position on risk to obtain the lowest cost position. I opted for a 20% risk, so 1 day in 5 I might underestimate my purchase from the grid reflecting the ratio of grid prices high:low. I estimated this 20th percentile assuming a normal distribution on the low side where the 20th percentile = 0.34 * 50th percentile + 0.66 * 10th percentile.

The process is as follows:

  1. download the data in a half-hourly format to be comparable to the half-hourly Agile electricity price data,
  2. calculate the 20th percentile from the 10th and 50th percentiles,
  3. count the number of half-hours in the 20th percentile data above a threshold that provides for charging the battery at full power,
  4. establish the earliest half hour when solar would charge the battery at full power,
  5. adjust the period for buying power from the grid by the period anticipated for solar charging (tomorrow a total of 7 hours is to be achieved by 6.5 hours from solar leaving 0.5 hours from the grid),
  6. adjust the end time for buying power from the grid to align with the earliest hour when the battery can charge at full power from solar.
HEMS schedule with battery behaviour modified for predicted solar generation

The result of these calculations can be seen above. One half-hour of lowest price battery charging has been identified overnight to meet the requirement for charging from the grid. Normal HEMS behaviour has also identified several other periods of grid charging at lower cost during the day, but these are not counted towards the target for buying from the grid due to the potential for a double count of solar and grid charging during the day. (In a similar manner there are multiple start times during the afternoon when the dishwasher or washing machine can be run on grid power more cheaply than the optimal overnight start time.)

No explicit command from the HEMS is required to enable proportional charging of the battery from the solar panels when there is a solar surplus as 2 of the 3 used battery operating modes (normal and charge-only) have this capability, and the third mode force charges the battery. If the battery is force charged during solar surplus then the source of the energy will of course be the solar panels, but any shortfall will be met from the grid.

modecharge behaviourdischarge behaviourcomment
NormalProportional to solar surplusProportional to shortfallUsed at high grid prices (today discharging enabled at > 8 p/kWh)
Charge onlyProportional to solar surplusNo dischargeUsed at mid grid price to save stored energy for period of higher grid price (between 5 and 8 p/kWh today)
Force chargeFull powerNo dischargeUsed at lower grid price to buy from grid (today buying at < 5p/kWh). If low price occurs at time with reasonable solar generation then use of solar output will happen automatically, with only any shortfall coming from the grid.
Battery behaviour in different operating modes

Smart Export Guarantee – FiT for purpose?

Solar PV installations like mine that are a few years old generally qualify for the UK’s Feed-in Tariff (FiT) which pays both for generation and notionally for export, while newer installations are covered by the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG). The older FiT scheme was universal in the sense that all larger electricity companies had to participate and they all paid the same rates, while with the newer scheme there’s still an obligation for larger companies to participate but the rates are all different. Older installations like mine can optionally swap the export component of the FiT for the SEG, but is that an attractive option?

SEG Payments by provider

SEG payments differ widely between providers so it’s worth shopping around.

My FiT export payment is currently 5.38 p/kWh on a deemed export basis, which means that, rather than measure actual export, it is assumed that half of my generation is exported. My electricity supplier Octopus offerers one of the best SEG rates at 5.5 p/kWh but that’s on the actual export, not the deemed export.

Monitoring data March 2019 – February 2020
AlternativeDescriptionEnergy exportedRate paidTotalComment
Baseline FiT2,098 kWh (50% of 4,196.1 kWh) 5.38 p/kWh£112.87
Scenario #1 Switch to SEG without other changes 647.1 kWh5.50 p/kWh£35.5968% reduction
Scenario #2Add disable water heating from solar to above.1,722.4 kWh (1,075.3 + 647.1 kWh)5.50 p/kWh£94.75
Provide equivalent water heating from gas1,075.3 kWh 3.2 p/kWh / 90% (£38.23)
Total£56.5250% reduction

Octopus Energy does also offer the alternative of a variable export rate based on wholesale prices, akin to their Octopus Agile import tariff, but for export. However it’s my belief that I would need a much larger battery than I have now (4 kWh) in order to benefit from this as it will always be generally better value to use that stored energy to avoid the early evening peak price period (up to 35 p/kWh) than to sell it back to the grid at a lower price and then need to buy more energy myself. If I had a bigger battery (both in terms of energy and power) then I could both meet my own needs and sell back to the grid.

Overall however I think that it’s clear that, with my current relatively small battery and deemed export tariff, I’m better off on the older FiT scheme than the newer SEG scheme even with one of the better-paying SEG providers.

Saving on electricity

I’ve been seeing a few online advertisements recently touting 70% savings on electricity through a combination of solar panels and battery storage. I’ve also been looking for a way to express my savings through my smart tariff so this seemed like a opportunity to try that.

My start point is a years data from my monitoring system..

Monitoring data for March 2019 to February 2020

I also went through a year of electricity bills (with slightly different start and end dates) concluding that my average purchased electricity cost was 7.08 p/kWh. Thus my average electricity costs (including solar) are on the right of the table below:

sourcequantityest unit priceEst totalmy uniT pricemY totalmy saving v. Est
Bought4,309 kWh15.75 p/kWh£678.677.08 p/kWh£305.08£373.59
Generated2,473 kWh15.75 pkWh£389.500.00 p/kWh£0.00£389.50
Total / Average6,783 kWh15.75 p/kWh£1,068.324.5 p/kWh£305.23£763.09
Comparison between my electricity cost and the UK average

If I look at the Energy Saving Trust’s assumptions as a baseline, they have the average UK cost of electricity as 15.75 p/kWh. If I’m paying an average 4.5 p/kWh for each kWh used with my combination of solar PV, storage battery and smart tariff then I’m paying 28.6% of the cost of someone who used the same amount of electricity bought at the average UK rate or saving 71.4% of electricity cost. To put it another way, I’m paying £305.23 for electricity that would have cost the average UK consumer £1,068.32 (on the left of the table above) – a saving of £763.09.

(The baseline assumption that someone would have used the same amount of electricity as me without my level of technology is a slight over-estimate as I flex water heating between gas and electricity since my bought electricity price is sometimes lower than my bought gas price causing me to substitute electricity for gas. Someone on a conventional electricity tariff and gas would never make that substitution as their gas would always be cheaper than their electricity, hence my electricity consumption is a little higher than someone who would be on a conventional electricity tariff.)

I’m also generating feed-in tariff due to the age of my system (approximately 4.5 years old) which would be £714.59 per annum at current rates, and making 1,075 kWh of hot water from surplus solar electricity which saves £38.22 in gas (the diverted / hot water saving in the screenshot above is based on a notional electricity price, not a gas price). Unless I’ve missed something that’s an annual return of £1,515.90 (£763.09 + £714.59 + £38.22).

In my previous post I estimated my investment at £8,670 so with an combined annual savings and revenue of £1,515.90 that’s a 17.5% return or a payback of 5.7 years. Previously I’d estimated 9 years including the battery, but this was without the benefit of the smart tariff. As we’ve now had the solar PV for 4.5 years that’s very promising, although as my return seems to be accelerating it will take more than 4.5 past years + 1.2 future years (total 5.7 years) to achieve payback.

The current 5.7 years to payback would have achieved payback in spring 2021 as the near bookend, while the prior 9 years would have been autumn 2024 as the far bookend. In practice I could not have achieved the lower bookend of 5.7 years, even had I invested in all the supporting technologies simultaneously, because I’m combining the legacy Feed-in Tariff (FiT) scheme for my solar PV with the Octopus Agile dynamic smart electricity tariff which started in February 2018,