Building and unlocking flexibility with smart local energy systems (SLES)

Building and unlocking flexibility with smart local energy systems (SLES)

Chris Maidment, Research Associate at the UCL Energy Institute

29 March 2022

We will soon publish a report on measures that SLES stakeholders can take to increase flexibility in the energy system and make best use of the flexibility that is available. While other EnergyREV researchers have worked to quantify the flexibility benefits that SLES can bring, our team has been investigating how best to make these benefits a reality.

By reviewing existing research, including EnergyREV publications and systematic reviews,  and speaking to EnergyREV colleagues and a range of experts involved in local energy schemes, we were able to put together a list of barriers to building and unlocking flexibility, and an array of potential solutions.

The barriers identified have been grouped into nine key themes:

  1. The policy making ecosystem

The socio-political and cultural context in which the conditions for flexibility are created.

  1. Knowledge and learning ecosystem

The production and distribution of evidence; experimental research, experiential learning, pilot projects.

  1. A system not designed to incorporate flexibility

The need for changes in the current network and a lack of demand to make these changes.

  1. Transitional complexity

Regulatory issues arising from incorporating more energy from renewables (and so creating a need for greater flexibility).

  1. Realising value from flexibility

The risk that providing flexibility may not generate enough benefit to encourage stakeholder involvement.

  1. Barriers to new entrants

Substantial investment in technologies and services is needed from investors, community interest groups and flexibility service providers.

  1. Market signal communication

Encouraging participants to change energy demands to meet network needs by delaying appliance use, switching sources, using storage or investing in flexibility technologies.

  1. Managing risk to the consumer

The need to protect the public as the energy system evolves to incorporate innovative approaches, technologies and business models.

  1. Values to the consumer and participation

Individual attitudes, beliefs and concerns that affect whether people are willing to take part in SLES by investing in technologies, adopting flexible behaviours and sharing data.

Many of these themes are interlinked; barriers under one theme may need to be overcome before other barriers can be addressed, while some solutions may address multiple barriers under multiple themes.

In our report, due to be released very shortly, the recommendations that we make will be summarised for different types of stakeholder – policy makers, regulators, researchers, local authorities, DNOs, and SLES, energy, technology and flexibility providers – presenting a quick guide to the measures and considerations most relevant to each role. The barriers and solutions will be discussed in detail for those interested in understanding the issues in more depth, along with how and why the recommendations were developed.