Last month Western Power Distribution (WPD) ran an event in Lincoln talking with communities and local authorities about the future of local energy. A flexible energy system will be key to achieving a cheaper energy system for everyone, so it’s important that community and local energy stakeholders are involved. Community energy organisations and local authorities have a lot of local knowledge and could be great advocates for local flexibility, encouraging uptake and public participation. WPD ran this event to support local energy stakeholders to learn more about flexibility, why it’s relevant and what it means in practice.

The event started with Ky Hoare from Regen presenting a beginners’ guide to flexibility. This included the change in our energy system from centralised to decentralised, the increase in distributed and renewable generation and two way power flows that mean we need to do more to balance supply and demand.

After coffee, Ryan Kavanagh, Network Strategy Engineer at WPD talked about the flexibility services WPD have developed, and the staged role out across new Constraint Managed Zones (CMZs). WPD have published the CMZs on their website, and will have an invitation to tender (ITT) open between 12 August and 20 September offering to pay for flexibility in specific areas including Lincoln, North Hykenham and Rugeley. On average a megawatt (MW) of flexibility could earn you between £1,500 and £6,000 per year, so it’s not going to pay for a new battery or solar farm, but could improve your business model and even tip a marginal project over the line to make it financially viable.

Participants at the event in Lincoln were invited during the workshops to give WPD feedback on what flexibility means to them and what would make it easier for them to engage. They had some great ideas about how to improve the communication around new local flexibility markets such as increasing lead times and advertising CMZs much earlier before the ITT period starts, but also called for Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) to take a position on how we get to zero carbon by 2050, and to prioritise low carbon sources of flexibility.

In the afternoon, Ben Aylott from Carbon Co-op talked about how they are working on a project funded by the department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), to aggregate or bundle together smaller domestic loads and build a new business model around a federation of community energy groups, recruiting householders to take part in the Energy Community Aggregator Service.

Yiango Mavrocostanti, Innovation and Low Carbon Networks Engineer at WPD talked about who WPD are, how their role is changing to become a Distribution System Operator (DSO) and more actively manage the power flows on the electricity distribution network. Yiango also talked about two of the innovation projects WPD are involved in. Visibility Plugs and Sockets Project is about the development of platform (by Centrica) for flexibility services, it is the first UK DNO flexibility marketplace, and the platform will allow customers to alter generation and demand to benefit a third party. As part of the Open LV project WPD have installed software platforms at 80 low voltage (LV) substations to provide community energy groups access to LV data and trigger new ideas.

Flexibility is a brave new world for communities and local authorities to get involved in, and could result in new revenue streams that support new low carbon generation, but it’s also a chance to upskill in an expanding area of the energy market, the value of flexibility is not yet fully realised. If you want to find out more, please find the presentations from Lincoln on the event website here, or have a look at WPD’s flexible power website.

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