By David Richardson, Innovation Lead for Energy Systems at UKRI with responsibility for the Concept and Design projects portfolio, Detailed Design project portfolio, and Policy & Regulatory impact
On the 18th February 2020 UKRI announced the Detailed Designs of Smart, Local Energy Systems projects. They are a portfolio of 10 projects receiving £21 million in grant funding and contributing a similar sum themselves. Each project will run for 24 months. They will develop radical new approaches to how the energy systems of our towns, cities and regions are configured.
The projects are each taking their own bespoke approach. However, activities typically include undertaking a detailed analysis of the energy assets and consumers in the locality and assessing the technology options to deliver net-zero ambitions. Concurrently, the projects will also be developing the business models, market approaches and investment options for implementing the final energy system design.
The 10 projects are:
- West Midlands Regional Energy System Operator (RESO) – Coventry
- GIRONA - Coleraine, Causeway Coast and Glens
- Peterborough Integrated Renewables Infrastructure (PIRI) - Peterborough
- GreenSCIES 2 - Green Smart Community Integrated Energy Systems – Islington (London)
- Zero Carbon Rugeley – Rugeley
- GM Local Energy Market – Greater Manchester
- Project REMeDY - spearheading a Revolution in Energy Market Design – Southend
- Energy Kingdom – Milford Haven
- Multi-vector Energy Exchange – Liverpool
- REWIRE-NW - Warrington
An important aspect is that these designs should be able to be investable in a way that enables them to be scaled and replicated to other localities upon completion. However, I do not expect the completed designs to necessarily be replicated in their entirety to other towns. In fact, variations in geographies, social differences and legacy infrastructure are likely to make it inappropriate to just cookie-cutter designs wholesale.
Instead, my expectation is that the projects will produce a toolkit of approaches, technical configurations, business models and insights that will be widely used to revolutionise the energy systems of towns, cities and regions across the UK.
Let’s take a city like Middlesbrough, which will be accelerating towards their net-zero transition by the end of the decade. We may see the deployment of 5th generation heat network approaches in urban areas, developed by GreenSCIES 2. Investment models shaped by Milford Haven, Energy Kingdom could be helping the local area to convert legacy oil and gas infrastructure for use with low carbon fuels. In addition, a market platform built as part of the West Midlands Regional Energy System Operator (RESO) project may be coordinating real-time trading between thousands of distributed energy assets across the city.
What areas will we be pushing the projects to challenge themselves in?
1.- Incorporating design thinking in to project delivery from the outset.
This means adopting a range of techniques, attitudes and principles to the way you work. Some of the important factors in practicing good design thinking include;
- Putting the needs of the people who will use our future energy systems at the heart of your design
- Questioning your own preconceived ideas and;
- Building a diverse, multidisciplinary team.
2.- To work collaboratively with all parts of PFER and invite appraisal from the wider energy (or other relevant) industries.
We should not forget that many good ideas exist within local energy initiatives that are not funded through PFER. Other industries (such as telecoms and finance) have also developed innovative business models in recent years, which we should look to learn from and to adopt where suitable.
I will of course be pushing the projects to proactively use the full range of skills and vast expertise of EnergyRev and ERIS. Please also ask yourselves, “Where could I best add value to these projects?”, and engage accordingly.
3.- To consider how the energy system design can help create valuable work and strengthen the local economy.
This does not just mean creating jobs across organisations we are funding. It also means supporting emerging energy niches that localities may have strong capabilities in. Projects should ask themselves, “What is the strategy for the operational transformation of the local energy system, and what are the future skills needed across the green economy?”.
4.- Championing and driving the recommendations of the Energy Data and EV Taskforces.
From the outset of PFER we have seen data and digitalisation as a key enabler for creating and implementing novel business models. We have recently closed a Modernising Energy Data Access competition and are working with Ofgem and BEIS to implement the recommendations. These projects should take a leadership role on principles such as improving visibility of infrastructure and assets, and taking a ‘presumed open’ data policy.
5.- To create business models and commercial cases that will attract investment and finance.
Each project has a work package which will investigate how their final energy system design will be investable. In order to realise our ambition for scaling and replicating these approaches it is important that they are built upon sound commercial cases which can unlock substantial amounts of private financing.
Where do I think EnergyRev can particularly help the projects?
1.- Policy and regulatory issues
Help the project teams to identify and shape the future policy and regulatory conditions that will enable these designs to flourish. Work in this area is being coordinated through the Policy Working Group (EnergyRev & ERIS led), but do not hesitate to raise a concern that may be new to the group, and be vocal to elevate the conversation amongst your own networks.
2.- Operational delivery
We hope that the business models and market conditions created by these projects will unlock at-scale roll out of low carbon technologies ranging from EV charging infrastructure, microgeneration, distributed storage and many more. This could create an unprecedented challenge for operational delivery. How do we upskill workforces, coordinate hardware installations or infrastructure upgrades, and manage logistics to ensure the energy revolution comes at the lowest cost and disruption to society?
3.- Share your knowledge, learning and skills
Within your organisation, you will likely have capabilities or facilities (as example, for mathematical modelling or understanding behavioural change) that the project teams might be lacking. Learn about the projects and build mutually beneficial relationships. Remember that they may not have yet read your paper or report.
We will shortly be producing a brochure containing short profiles of each project, with details of the consortium and contact details. We will ensure this is shared widely and we look forward to your help in making these world-leading projects a success.