Our energy system is changing, a third of all electricity generation came from renewables in 2018, and 15 Giga Watts (GW) of fossil fuel generation has come off the system since 2011. The way we use energy is changing too, demand for electric vehicles (EVs) rose 27% last year, and a typical electric car uses as much electricity in a year as an average home. This all has a huge impact on our electricity network which wasn’t designed for variable low carbon generation and two-way electricity flows to and from homes and businesses. We are also seeing a groundswell of public support to urgently tackle climate change, and a continued interest in local energy. At our future of local energy event in Exeter recently, nearly 100 people turned up to share and learn, from community organisations, suppliers, aggregators, and Western Power Distribution (WPD), the Distribution Network Operator (DNO) covering the largest geographical area in the UK, who have supported these events for the past five years. You can see all the slides here or read on for some common themes that emerged:
1. New revenue for flexibility and more engagement with network operators
WPD is adapting to the growth of renewables and our changing demand by offering to pay people who can be flexible when they use electricity or store it to be released when it is needed. Payments are marginal but support new business models and revenue stacking, which is vital in a post feed in tariff world. You can learn more on the flexible power website, or by attending one of WPD’s Local Energy, a Flexible Future events in Lincoln – 26 June, Stafford – 27 June, Exeter – 3 July, Bridgwater – 4 July.
2. More innovation and larger scale projects
In the absence of an off the shelf business model for local energy, we are seeing a few pioneering organisations getting involved in innovation projects. As part of the Open LV project Bath and West Community Energy are installing 20 community owned solar PV & battery systems on two streets, using a grid sharing platform to help monitor and manage demand and generation. Clean Energy Prospector are working on a federation of microgrids, the ‘microgrid foundry’, to spread risk and scale up projects. The Devon Energy Collective and Communities for Renewables are working on a portfolio of new projects at scale, this project is emerging from the Devon Community Energy Network of 23 organisations who are taking the last 10 years of networking to the next level and establishing a collective organisation to deliver larger projects. If you have an idea for a new innovation project, register it with the Network Innovation Collaboration Portal (last round funded £90m of projects, or take a look at government innovation funding.
3. Greater engagement
One of the unique elements of community energy projects is the networks of local people who are engaged, supported or invested. We see communities in our networks tackling fuel poverty through home visits to help people better insulate their homes and reduce their energy bills. The 23 community energy organisations in Devon supported nearly 3000 households with energy in 2017. We’ve supported this engagement using art, knitting, a musical, feasts, photography, and poetry to start conversations with people about energy. Poetry might sound highbrow but can be a very powerful tool, in the words of our poet in residence, the amazing Matt Harvey, “I want to go renewable, so my streets are less canoeable”. Community energy networks and the trust developed will be critical to our future energy system, the scale of change needed to decarbonise will not be possible without bringing people with us.