Rewire NW – Our approach to Smart Local Energy System Detailed Design Project

Rewire NW – Our approach to Smart Local Energy System Detailed Design Project

By Paul Gilligan, REWIRE-NW Project Manager, Pure Leapfrog

From providing access to expertise and advice for communities to carbon offsetting and the provision of finance for community energy schemes, Pure Leapfrog has been at the forefront. We have always been leaders and innovators and the present energy transition is no exception. This approach has resulted in being successful in our bid to lead an Innovate UK Prospering from the energy revolution detailed design project, one of ten projects running across the UK who have received a total of £21 million to develop radical new approaches to how energy systems across the UK towns and cities are configured.

Pure Leapfrog put ‘local’ and ‘community’ into renewable energy. From its establishment in 2005 it has sought to support communities to access the benefits of renewable energy and a lower carbon lifestyle.

When FiTs ended in 2019, it was contentious and heavily criticised by some quarters, but in fact metrics associated with renewables penetration, output and returns have continued to increase. Perhaps surprisingly, we actually think it was the right policy decision, probably at around the right time.

We also knew this would mean a challenge for us, in particular, to our finance organisation. The FiT was basically a financial investment made flesh in the form of a renewables asset. Investible opportunities in the future are not guaranteed to have subsidies attached and therefore need to be economic on a stand-alone basis. With this in mind, Leapfrog had its eye on the future, well before FiTs ended.

To my knowledge, it has never been a contentious claim that moving to a more distributed and smarter energy system will reduce GHGs it was more of a self-evident truth that slowly revealed itself through discourse, research and commercial interest.

It’s not just that future energy systems will be more distributed, or smarter, it is the fact that what we think of as the ‘system’ will reach further into people’s homes, workplaces and leisure activities than ever before. Those things we think of as energy assets, will expand by type and increase in instance, driving a commoditisation of these technologies and creating downward price pressure.

Homes start to become energy assets in a way that we haven’t viewed them before, cars become mobile batteries, and businesses might find themselves able to make more money by turning off machines for an hour and giving staff an unexpected break – great for the profit and loss and great for morale!

All of this will happen inside communities. New services will evolve to support a future energy system, and we believe that communities have a role to play. Not only because a community should be able to retain some of the wealth and opportunities generated by it, but the service offerings can be designed to support local strategic priorities too.

A smart system can discriminate by postcode and deliver targeted support for those facing fuel poverty; it can be leveraged to deliver charitable giving of flexibility, or self-selecting aggregation pools where schools, village halls and community centres combine resources to offer greater scale of flexibility response.

When you start pulling at that initial thread of what “smart grid” really means, it means that citizens and communities increasingly become an active part of the system rather than simply being served by it.

This is why it isn’t as simple as FiTs any more. This future describes a far more complex and dynamic socio-economic relationship with energy.

Leapfrog is participating in the prospering from the energy revolution programme not only to advocate from a community perspective, but to actually design solutions that have community benefit designed-in from first principals, not added-on or assumed. If nobody does this (and I’m not saying others aren’t – far from it) then our future selves could easily find that we have signed away all of our value because we didn’t understand how valuable it was, and only be wise after the event. It happened with Google, Facebook, and Amazon. It is naïve to say it couldn’t happen with energy.

Change brings renewal, creativity and opportunity though. Of course we are passionate about what we do, and we can be guilty of getting too caught up in that at times. We have to remind ourselves who we do it for, and ask ourselves “how can we better serve the communities we seek to benefit?”.