Thematic lessons from Smart Local Energy Systems in the real world

Thematic lessons from Smart Local Energy Systems in the real world

Neil Kermode, Project Director, ReFLEX

30th September 2021

As Project Director for ReFLEX I thought it might be of interest to share some thoughts on our progress now we are 2 years into the project.

To be honest I would like to have been able to tell you a long string of successes, but I'm not. We have really been struggling under some of the challenges and whilst we have had successes, the progress made has been slower than we'd expected and therefore slower than we'd promised.

Rather than give a list of problems I thought I’d concentrate on some thematic lessons:

1) It is not the physics or chemistry that is the problem. Its the Regulation. The ReFLEX team (and I include the Monitoring Officers from Innovate in this group) has been remarkably persistent. Whenever we’ve hit obstructions we've sought ways around them. What we’d have liked is a way through the blockage, so preventing complex deviation from course, but nobody has the clout to give us the ‘access all areas pass' we'd need to fix stuff. So as we have woven our way towards solutions we have lost forward momentum and lost time. Very frustrating. Of course, nobody writes regulations to impede progress; most were put there for a good reason back in the day. The regulatory problems as we see them are generally that the imperative to decarbonise is of a lower importance than the protection of the market (at present). As a project we don’t have the reach or power to change that emphasis, but we'd love to help those who do.

2) It is not consumer behaviour we need to change. We should remember that regulation drives behaviours. In our case we find the attitude of the DNO is generally very cautious and ponderous. This is a function of both the complexity of regulation but also the inertia of both the regulator and regulated. Both have well practised roles and norms of behaviour and have been largely impervious to acceleration. We think in timescales of days, they in weeks if not months.

3) The market is not a perfect solution: The market is what has given us the problems we face. The market said it was OK to burn stuff and fly tip the results into the atmosphere. The market is willing to prioritise the supply of polluting electricity, heat and travel over sustainable alternatives. The market basically protects itself from change.

One of our conclusions is that you can’t have a revolution AND Business as Usual.

ReFLEX has begun to change behaviours, but this is (and always was) a long haul. We firmly believe we need a revolution and we'll keep challenging the blocks as fast and as long as we can.

Further details about the ReFLEX project, which is setting out a range of services to help decarbonise transport, electricity and heating in Orkney, can be found in this recent newsletter.

Photo Credit: Colin Keldie