ESO, Open Climate Fix Team for Cloud-Predicting AI
August 26, 2021
Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) has teamed up with Open Climate
Fix (OCF) – a non-profit start-up co-founded by former DeepMind
researcher Jack Kelly – to use AI to improve the way the grid forecasts
The new innovation project will see the ESO – which balances Britain’s
electricity system second by second to keep the lights on – 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 forecasting the near future
– in minutes and hours rather than days – and has historically found use
in predicting 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.
Changes in solar generation are difficult for grid operators to
anticipate owing not only to uncertainty in forecasts, but also
uncertainty around the location of many solar panels – most of which are
connected to regional networks.
While work is underway to map Britain's solar panels, previously there’s
been no way to anticipate short term swings in solar generation caused
by cloud cover.
To cover that uncertainty – and make sure any dip or rise in solar
generation doesn’t nudge the electricity system out of balance – the ESO
keeps reserve power, often flexible gas plants, in readiness to respond
to unexpected changes in supply or demand.
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, and more efficient balancing actions –
meaning better value for consumers.
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. The more
confidence we have in our forecasts, the less we’ll have to cover for
uncertainty by keeping traditional, more controllable fossil fuel plants
“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.”
Kelly, co-founder of Open Climate Fix, said: “We're over the moon to be
collaborating with one of the world's most innovative system operators –
National Grid ESO. We plan to adapt the amazing work done by the global
machine learning community to solar electricity forecasting. All our
work will be open-source, so others will be free to use the technology
to help reduce emissions globally as rapidly as possible.”
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
Machine learning developments in the ESO’s control room have already
resulted in a 33% improvement in the accuracy of solar forecasts in
Last week saw the launch of another ESO innovation project using machine
learning to help forecast the required levels of back-up power on the
grid more efficiently.