Delivering the flexibility so often spoken of…

Delivering the flexibility so often spoken of…

Hywel Lloyd, Knowledge Transfer, EnergyREV

12 January 2023

The EnergyREV insights and impact event in London in September included an array of sessions covering the role of SLES in addressing the energy crisis, in levelling up, and in skills, before looking at the future and making the most of SLES, and the many tools created by the programme.  All of this provided evidence, experience and ambition to reinforce the opportunities offered by Smart Local Energy Systems (SLES).

Clearly a key benefit of a SLES is its ability to flex demand (and to some extent its own supply) in a locality, based on a smart connected local energy system. Such systemic flexibility can be thought of as the other side of the coin of an optimised system, where optimised is based on an integrated and interoperable combination of technologies, allowing smart controls to optimise its demand supply or net demand.

Coming from a background of building based energy capability we can also see a growing range of building innovations that might be covered by the term Smart Building Energy Systems (SBES).  These include the Homes As Power Stations (HAPS) and Active Building (AB) concepts originating from Swansea and Swansea University.  As with a SLES a key attribute of a SBES is its ability to flex, with flexibility similarly being a product of a design and operate approach that is based upon interoperable, integrated and smartly controlled combinations of technology.

Just as SLES seek to integrate to create energy capability and performance so these concepts seek to do the same at the scale of a building or groups of buildings.   Clearly there is a considerable conceptual overlap between an integrating optimising approach to energy supply and demand at a local level and at a building level, while noting a key distinction, building based systems tending to be ‘behind the meter’ while local systems tend to be ‘between the meter’.

The Smart System & Flexibility Plan 2.0, published by BEIS & Ofgem in summer 2021 highlights the significant value (~£10bns pa) savings that smart flexibility can deliver.  SBES and SLES both have the ability to be key parts of delivering Plan 2.0; the challenge that remains is to ensure their substantive adoption – both in the worlds of the energy system and of the built environment.

It is apparent that there are two immediate challenges, one of which I’ll describe as conceptual acceptance, and the other as what’s the name of the game?

As they stand much of the policies that govern the energy systems of the UK are an evolution of policies that see a centrally controlled system linking a few massive suppliers (in the sense of creating or sourcing) of energy with a mass of users (our homes and businesses) with a few massive users, of industry, mixed in.  For buildings we have a policy history that is based on individual buildings being users of energy supplied by others, which with energy being historically cheap has not prioritised energy productivity.

Yet this lack of focus on energy productivity means we have less efficient system than we need, which means we are all paying for a system that is oversized.  Plan 2.0 rightly highlights the future cost of such an approach to propose a system based on optimisation and flexibility.  With those principles in place the energy system will inherently be more energy productive, and for a given set of energy needs be smaller and cheaper than would otherwise be the case.

That Plan rightly highlights the productivity gains for the energy system when EVs, aka mobile battery storage, becomes a ubiquitous part of the energy system.  However the Plan could go further.  It should recognise that flexibility and optimisation will come from buildings and from local systems too – driven by the expectations of EV owners, who are already looking at how smart building energy systems (home storage, PV and controls etc) can support their EV use; driven by local authorities and other actors who see local benefits to smart energy systems at all scales and supported by the ubiquity of renewable energy – every home, building, school, hospital, campus, neighbourhood can capture some of its own energy from renewable sources.  

To make the most of these drivers, we need to address the conceptual challenge of local as a fundamental building block of the future energy system….To help on that journey those of us advocating SLES or SBES will need to think about how best to describe what's on offer.  In a world where there are or could be

Smart Local Energy Systems (SLES)

Smart Building Energy Systems (SBES)

Zones As Power Stations (ZAPS)

Homes As Power Stations (HAPS)

Active Communities (AC)

Active Buildings (AB)

School2Grid; Hospital2 Grid

(Anchor asset2Grid)

Buildings to Grid (B2G)

(superseding V2G and V2X)

There will be benefit in a core proposition that covers the whole array of these smart systems in place. 

With the Innovate UK team proposing Energy Smart Places as a broad description of SLESs projects, we could also surely describe all these approaches as being Energy Smart too.  A combination of Energy Smart Buildings and Places is the underpinning of the delivery of the 2021 Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan 2.0.

As a final thought, while the Energy Bill may well be paused we can take a prompt from it (i.e. Heat Zoning) and reflecting on the ED2 business plans the next step for DNOs and Ofgem should include Smart Zoning that seeks to address the challenges of constraint management zones across the networks.