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Green light to trial ‘virtual power plants’

A project to test the viability of so-called ‘virtual power plants’ has been granted funding.

The Technology Strategy Board’s Small Business Research Initiative programme has agreed to provide funding of up to £20,000 to thEnergy, a new venture formed by Klima-Therm, Next Control Systems, Green Structures and Imperial College.

It will fund a practical demonstration of the system which combines thermal energy storage and heat pump technology based on Klima-Therm’s Turbomiser chiller.

The project involves building a 1+MW plant for installation at a facility operated by fruit supplier World Wide Fruit.

Its business depends on calibrating and controlling the fruit-ripening process so that it reaches peak quality when delivered to supermarket shelves. The process is highly energy intensive and requires close monitoring and control.

In phase one of the project, called Ripe 4 Efficiency, a new energy recovery and storage system will be installed at one of the firm’s ripening centres.

It will passively heat and cool ripening enclosures by melting (or freezing) phase-change materials in a novel staged process, lowering or increasing temperature progressively.

The process could cut energy use related to ripening by up to 70 per cent and will enable the operator to generate more heating and cooling using off-peak electricity, further cutting costs.

If successful, the system could provide a proven energy-saving technology for application across the temperature-controlled food distribution industry.

The partners’ vision is to establish a new renewable energy infrastructure to run alongside and support the national grid, based on storage and delayed use of heat and ‘coolth’.

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