The project 

ReFLEX (Responsive Flexibility) Orkney is a £28.5 million smart grid demonstration project focused on linking electricity demand to the supply of renewable generation in Orkney, with the aim of fully decarbonising the island and establishing a fully sustainable and flexible local energy system by 2030. 

The project brings together an expert consortium of Orkney-based partners — The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), SMS, Aquatera, Community Energy Scotland, Heriot-Watt University and Orkney Islands Council, to create a ‘smart energy island’ which will demonstrate the integrated energy system of the future.

ReFLEX, which is being part-funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), will maximise the use of locally generated green energy, reducing, and eventually eliminating, the need for fossil fuels in Orkney. Upon demonstrating the success of the project, it is envisaged that the concept will be replicated regionally, nationally and internationally to support global efforts of reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

SMS's innovative FlexiGrid platform is being used to provide the control and aggregation service required to effectively integrate zero-carbon electricity, transport and heat networks on the islands.

Whilst renewable energy generation technology has grown significantly over the last few decades, its intermittent nature means we still must rely on other energy resources such as oil, gas, or nuclear power. Up until now, energy storage and grid management solutions have been insufficient in tackling the issue of intermittency and reducing our reliance on polluting fossil fuels.

Orkney is a perfect example of this challenge, generating as it does more than 100% of its annual electricity demand from renewable resources. Despite this surplus of locally generated green energy, there are still times when Orkney needs to import fossil fuel generated electricity from the UK mainland (e.g. when the wind isn’t blowing). In order to fully decarbonise Orkney, the challenge of intermittency must be addressed.

ReFLEX Orkney solves the challenge of intermittency by deploying digitally linked solutions such as battery systems and electric vehicles to store renewable energy. This innovative system then stores and utilises energy according to the level of demand through interlinking electricity, heat and transport assets. The increased storage capacity thereby reduces curtailment (the shutting off of renewable generation sources when supply overwhelms the grid) and maximises the utilisation of local renewable generation during peak generation times when demand is high.

Through this process, ReFLEX Orkney will serve as a model for how to deliver full renewable energy autonomy while at the same time delivering affordable consumer energy bills through cheaper, locally generated, clean electricity.

Project goals
  • To fully decarbonise Orkney by 2030, eliminating the need for fossil fuels, and have a fully sustainable and flexible energy system.

  • To replicate the ReFLEX model elsewhere in the UK and beyond, implementing the technology in other communities to assist in the transition to renewable energy and reach net-zero carbon emission.

SMS has developed an innovative cloud-based aggregation platform, FlexiGrid™, which centrally controls distributed flexibility assets (e.g. batteries and electric vehicle chargers) in real time as a ‘Virtual Power Plant’ (VPP) in order to balance renewable generation locally, manage local grid constraints and provide other grid services. 

The utilisation of our FlexiGrid™ software is fundamental to the success of the ReFLEX Orkney project as it effectively and efficiently enables the integration of these electricity and transport assets –  as well as heat networks – on the islands, operating them as an integrated energy system o better match electricity demand with intermittent, renewable supply. The platform is designed to be technology agnostic, with the ability to control any type of Distributed Energy Resource (DER) hardware and to cost-effectively scale from tens to hundreds of thousands of connected devices without any requirement to rearchitect the software.

Through this innovative software and our pioneering VPP model, SMS is not only helping decarbonise the grid, but also delivering value to electricity suppliers and system operators (by reducing the cost to deliver electricity and our balancing services to the grid), as well as to local housing landlords and end consumers through the provision of cheaper, renewable energy.

Launched in April 2019, the project passed its first stage gate review in February 2020, and as part of the main project objective to fully decarbonise the island, the ReFLEX consortium has laid out a number of targets, including:

  • Installation of more than 1,000 interlinked flexibity assets covering domestic, business and grid-scale batteries, electric vehicle-to-grid (V2G) smart chargers, and electric heating systems;
  • An island community-powered electric bus and e-bike integrated transport system;
  • A hydrogen fuelled, commercial scale, combined heat and power system;
  • A local shop front to support community in decarbonisation and to promote solutions offered by the project;
  • Work closely with an energy supplier to bring 100% renewable, bespoke tariffs to Orkney;
  • Increase more skilled labour jobs in the renewable energy space.

In addition to FlexiGrid™, which we are putting to use in ReFLEX, our wider energy service is now being delivered as part of a number of exciting projects and commercial agreements around the UK in order to deliver net-zero carbon emissions, working both directly with large businesses to create their own smart energy systems and as part of other Government-backed innovation projects.

Our disruptive business model offers financing, design, installation and ongoing management of distributed flexible energy assets, such as batteries and electric vehicle smart chargers, at no up-front cost to homes and businesses across the grid. For instance, with our asset funding and project delivery capability offered in tandem with our aggregation service, we are able to work with local housing authorities to design a flexible energy storage schemes for new and existing housing stocks. We can fund the complete project, ensuring there’s no up-front cost to the landlord authority or its tenants, and deliver up to 30% cost savings on energy supply and a 90%+ reduction in  household carbon emissions.

This Virtual Power Plant (VPP) model – which we are currently delivering via a combination of service formats on three ground-breaking projects with local authorities in Scotland – holds huge potential not only to reduce carbon footprint across the entire UK housing stock and meet net-zero targets, but also importantly tackle the issue of fuel poverty head on.

Find out more about our Carbon Reduction Asset Funding service or work with our dedicated energy services team to deliver your wider net-zero carbon strategy.

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