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'Virtual power plant' project gets green light

A project to test the viability of so-called “virtual power plants”, which use a combination of Thermal Energy Storage and Turbomiser heat pump technology, has been given the green light.

The Technology Strategy Board’s SBRI (Small Business Research Initiative) programme has agreed to provide funding of up to £20,000 for phase one of a practical demonstration of the system.

The initiative will be headed by thEnergy, a new venture formed by project partners Klima-Therm, Next Control Systems, Green Structures and Imperial College.

Turbomiser, the thermodynamic engine of the system equipped with virtually frictionless magnetic levitation bearings, can cut energy use by more than half compared with conventional chiller systems.

The project involves designing and building a 1+MW plant for installation at a facility operated by World Wide Fruit, one of UK’s leading fruit suppliers with a number of ripening centres around the country.

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

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

It is anticipated to cut energy use related to ripening by up to 70 per cent. It will also enable the operator to generate more heating and cooling out-of-hours using off-peak electricity, further reducing costs.

If successful, the system could be rolled-out at the company’s other facilities and 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 of renewable heating and “coolth”, powered by Turbomiser heat pumps.