UK’s National Grid to use Machine Learning to Better Predict Solar Generation

The UK’s National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) has announced that it will collaborate with Open Climate Fix (OCF), a non-profit startup co-founded by former DeepMind researcher Jack Kelly to use AI to improve the efficiency with which the grid forecasts solar generation

Oliwia Milek, Energy Forecasting Manager at National Grid ESO, UK. Credit: National Grid ESO website

Oliwia Milek, Energy Forecasting Manager at National Grid ESO, UK. Credit: National Grid ESO website

The UK’s National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) has announced that it will collaborate with Open Climate Fix (OCF), a non-profit startup co-founded by former DeepMind researcher Jack Kelly to use AI to improve the efficiency with which the grid forecasts solar generation. The new innovation project will see the ESO work with Kelly and his team to develop a first-of-its-kind solar ‘nowcasting’ service for its national control room.

Nowcasting involves a machine learning model which enables energy networks such as the ESO to forecast in the near future (in minutes and hours rather than days). Traditionally, the technology has been applied to predict rainfall. OCF’s pioneering work applies a similar approach to predicting where sunlight will fall by training a machine learning model to read satellite images and understand how and where clouds are moving in relation to solar arrays below.

While work is underway to map Britain’s solar panels, there’s been no way to anticipate short term swings in solar generation caused by cloud cover. The increased certainty in solar forecasts that OCF’s nowcasting service could bring to the ESO’s control room could mean fewer carbon-emitting generators held in reserve. It would mark a significant step in the ESO’s ambition to be able to operate a zero carbon electricity system by 2025.

Carolina Tortora, head of innovation strategy and digital transformation at National Grid ESO, said: “Accurate forecasts for weather-dependent generation like solar and wind are vital for us in operating a low carbon electricity system. We’re increasingly using machine-learning to boost our control room’s forecasts, and this latest nowcasting project with Open Climate Fix – whose work could have real impact for grid operators around the world – will bring another significant step forward in our capability and on our path to a zero-carbon grid.”

In April OCF won part of a €10m fund from Google.org as part of its Impact Challenge on Climate programme – an initiative that backs bold ideas that use technology to accelerate Europe’s progress toward a greener future. Machine learning developments in the ESO’s control room have already resulted in a 33% improvement in the accuracy of solar forecasts in recent years.

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