National energy approach encouraged to grow local energy systems

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Energy technology companies, local authorities and community organisations have come together to encourage new approaches to energy policy and regulation.

The new approaches will help the development of intelligent and joined-up energy systems at a local level.

Smart local energy systems conference

Last month, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) hosted a conference on smart local energy systems.

Organisations involved in cutting-edge demonstrator projects pointed out that national policies and regulations should evolve to drive the adoption of flexible systems that integrate energy generation, storage and use locally.

Demonstrator and trial projects around the UK, funded by UKRI, are starting to show the benefits of joining up local energy generation, demand and storage using intelligent data systems.

Managing energy needs

Such schemes could offer a much more efficient way of managing a community’s energy needs, in which local systems work together with national grids.

If widely developed, the schemes could:

  • cut carbon emissions
  • lower costs
  • reduce the need for massive network upgrades as the UK moves towards electrification of heating and transport
  • get the UK to net zero faster.

Many speakers at the event noted that the current regulatory framework for energy was designed for a centralised system, when reducing carbon emissions was not the priority it is today.

We need to do more

We need to do more to develop local integrated schemes, prove they work and roll them out more widely.

Cheryl Hiles, Director of Energy Capital at the West Midland Combined Authority, said:

Government has published new policy proposals recently on flexibility, digitalisation and the new networks operator, which are all important pointers to the future.

But there is still a bit too much focus on the national approach.

We need to look at regulation and think about what can be tweaked so that it encourages joining up of energy assets and vectors locally, within the national context.

Making the right decisions

Lawrence Slade, Chief Executive Officer of the Global Infrastructure Investment Association, said:

There is actually no shortage of capital waiting to be invested.

There is a wall of money and a lack of projects to provide homes for it.

Speaking at the conference Lord Callanan, Minister for Business, Energy and Corporate Responsibility at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), said:

Smart, data-enabled local energy systems have the potential to bring important benefits in cost savings, carbon emissions and consumer engagement.

These trial projects are starting to show us not only what the benefits could be, but some of the hurdles and barriers in the way of rolling out these approaches more rapidly.

I welcome this, as it will help us make the right decisions for the energy infrastructure of the future.

Evolving the system

Rob Saunders, Director of UKRI’s prospering from the energy revolution programme, said:

We are hearing from local authorities and innovative energy businesses that the net zero benefits of smart local energy systems could be great, yet more needs to be done.

The whole system needs to evolve, combining national and local perspectives, so that regulation can encourage people to see what is possible, and our trial projects can show the way for new smart local energy schemes across the UK.

Further information

UKRI’s conference, Smart Local Energy Systems: Unlocking Net Zero, took place online over four days from 19 July to 22 July 2021.

The event featured a wide range of speakers from the public and private sectors including:

    • Lord Callanan, Minister for Business, Energy and Corporate Responsibility, BEIS
    • Dr David Joffe, Head of Carbon Budgets, Climate Change Committee
    • Juliet Davenport, Founder and Board Member, Good Energy
    • Guy Newey, Director of Strategy and Performance, Energy Systems Catapult
    • Lawrence Slade, CEO, Global Infrastructure Investors Association
    • Monika Paplaczyk, Investment Director, Thrive Renewables plc
    • Polly Billington, CEO, UK100
    • Emma Bridge, Chief Executive, Community Energy England
    • Laura Sandys CBE, Non-Executive Director, Energy Systems Catapult and Senior Independent Director, SGN Ltd
    • Cheryl Hiles, Director, Energy Capital, West Midlands Combined Authority.

UKRI’s prospering from the energy revolution programme is investing £102 million in around 50 projects around the UK. The projects are designed to develop, trial and prove the benefits of smart integrated local energy systems.

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