The ‘whole system’ challenge faced by EnergyREV in delivering smart local energy systems

The ‘whole system’ challenge faced by EnergyREV in delivering smart local energy systems

By Rob Saunders, Deputy Challenge Director, Prospering From the Energy Revolution, Innovate UK

The role that EnergyREV plays in the Energy Revolution programme is as important as it is exciting.  Bringing new ‘whole system’ knowledge to the development of new local energy approaches promises to help businesses and government in navigating change over the coming decade.

‘Prospering From the Energy Revolution’ (PFER) is a ground-breaking £100m industrial strategy challenge fund programme that aims to prove that energy business models of the future can deliver cleaner, cheaper energy in ways that people like, but also involve business models that investors like and are keen to finance and scale across the UK and beyond.

Given national and even more ambitious local commitments to get to net zero emissions, it is a no-brainer to develop these new approaches.  They will provide the skeleton into which more renewables and low carbon projects can be fitted.  But it’s a big challenge.  How do you intelligently assemble the parts of a future decentralised energy system so that it delivers what society needs of it? How do you supply heat, power and mobility cleanly, affordably and conveniently? 

Interestingly this is less a pure technical challenge than one of integration.  Most of the technology ‘bits’ already exist, and even the more novel elements are becoming increasingly commercial.  The part that is missing is putting all the bits together intelligently within a business model that works for all the actors in the system.  This is a ‘whole system’ challenge then, not an exclusively technological one.  It needs the optimisation of a technical system within new market structures – competitive market-based energy services that can provide for future customers’ preferences in novel ways. It is a transition that will need engagement with the regulatory and policy bodies that can help unlock its rollout, and the investors that will fund it.

The programme is catalysing ground-breaking demonstrators and local energy systems design projects that will prove new business model approaches.  But in parallel it is essential that we bring the best knowledge to bear on the challenge:  pulling together learning from across our fantastic research base; creating new knowledge about these novel energy systems; and arranging and disseminating that knowledge to help the transition to a new world of energy provision.

The EnergyREV consortium is tasked with doing just that.  A new approach that reflects this whole systems challenge is pulling in researchers from many different fields to contribute to the research effort.  29 key academics from 22 institutions across the UK will develop knowledge and learning in ways that industry and government can quickly access and use.  Synthesising findings across topics like cyber-physical advances, novel business models, financing, regulation, and users’ engagement in their energy systems will be at the heart of solving this challenge and accelerating our journey to a zero emissions future.