New solar forecasting tool could help increase efficiency and reduce energy costs

A research group at the University of Sheffield has developed a solar forecasting service, helping to increase the efficiency of the electricity system and reduce energy costs.

Sheffield Solar, based in the Department of Physics at the University of Sheffield, has developed a service which provides forecasts for energy generation from photovoltaic (PV) systems in the UK for up to 72 hours ahead.


The tool is intended for electricity grid operators as well as energy generators and traders. With the rapid uptake of solar photovoltaic systems, there has developed a growing need to accurately measure and forecast solar’s impact in order to mitigate its disruption on the electricity network.

Renewable energy has continued to break records this year, as reported in the national press, for example by generating more than 50 per cent of electricity demand one lunchtime in June and with solar contributing a quarter of demand in late May. This highlights the need for greater monitoring of our energy sources, to balance renewable sources with other generating technologies, energy storage and interconnectors, as we move towards a smart grid.

As solar cannot be controlled, it affects the balance of supply and demand in the electricity grid. Uncertainty in forecasting PV results in the need for standby generators to provide additional reserve capacity, making it more expensive to manage the grid, but with accurate forecasts the amount of reserve can be reduced, cutting costs for National Grid and so the bill payers.

For the past two years, Sheffield Solar has been working closely with National Grid to develop a tool which estimates the real time generation from PV systems in Great Britain. This is used in National Grid’s control room to help to balance the supply of energy with demand. 

Forecasting graph

The new service takes things a step further, in providing National Grid and other energy managers with a short term forecast, so that they can better plan ahead in deciding which generators will be required throughout the day. It combines weather forecast data with the data from live generating systems to provide a forecast for the next seventy two hours. With frequent updates it ensures that stakeholders always have a high quality forecast at their fingertips.

The service is currently being trialled on the University of Sheffield's Sheffield Solar website. The group has plans to develop the service with researchers initially releasing a half hourly forecast, followed by a regional forecast and finally they intend to provide forecasts for individual systems around Great Britain.

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2017 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

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Kirsty Bowen
Media Relations Officer
0114 222 1034