The holy grail of community energy is local energy markets where communities can generate renewable energy and supply it via the public network to local homes and businesses. With the right incentives, communities could help manage power flows and peaks to reduce pressures on the local electricity distribution network, whilst paying a fair price for the use of that network. Sounds simple, but the challenges still exist despite the government and Ofgem’s drive for smart and flexible energy systems.

One of the key themes emerging from the Energy Network Association’s (ENA) community energy innovation event in Cardiff we held yesterday was that communities and DNOs can work together on local energy.  DNOs can play a key role in trialling innovative approaches and have the resource and influence to engage with Ofgem and BEIS to address the challenges to local energy approaches, but they need communities to provide the evidence of the services they can provide to make the case.

Local energy markets link closely to the ability to connect more low carbon generation to the network. A key request from the communities at this event was for decarbonisation to be a central theme of the transition to DSO. With renewable energy now competitive with fossil fuel-based energy generation, communities consider this can be achieved with the government’s and Ofgem’s agenda to keep costs as low as possible for customers.

Having worked with all the DNOs, the ENA and communities for the past couple of years it’s heartening to see how much DNOs have taken on board feedback from communities. We are now seeing more examples of DNOs working with trusted intermediaries, greater use of plain English, and dedicated community contacts in each DNO, while we are also seeing more examples of communities participating in Network Innovation projects. For community energy organisations working towards new business models these are some of the main ways to access funding and technical support from DNOs. This is all progress and we hope to see this trajectory continue.

As innovation projects are increasingly showing the opportunities for local approaches to energy, communities have clearly asked DNOs to use their influence with government to address challenges to local energy and to connecting more low carbon generation. The conversation is two way and communities need to keep telling DNOs what they need support with and what their priorities are.

There is a great opportunity to engage in this conversation at the ENA event on community energy and network innovation in Edinburgh on Tuesday. There is another key opportunity to feed in what you think is needed in the ENA Open Networks Future Worlds Consultationout now, and open until 25 September. The ENA have also put out a public call for ideas for Network Innovation Competition (NIC) funding. The deadline is 26 October and there’s £90m of investment up for grabs. Submit an idea on the Network Innovation Collaboration Portal, get some inspiration from our Electricity Network Innovation Guide for Communities 2018, or come and talk to the DNOs in Edinburgh about your ideas.

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