By Chris Maidment, EnergyREV Knowledge Synthesis Researcher, UCL
Collating and evaluating emerging and existing knowledge on smart local energy systems (SLES) is essential for moving forward. EnergyREV will be do this to help the PFER demonstrators. Before diving in to collect and summarise the findings from all the huge amount of relevant evidence we could find, we took the first step and asked ‘What is a smart local energy system?’ There was no obvious answer.
To try to answer this fundamental question, we reviewed a wide range of articles that discussed how energy systems may be seen as ‘smart’ or ‘local’ and worked closely with Rebecca Ford, the EnergyREV Research Director, who had asked a number of academic experts to answer similar questions.
We have not been able to come up with a single, concise definition. However, our results show a great deal of consensus regarding the possible and necessary characteristics of a smart local energy system. The outcomes are being used to produce a Framework to help the PFER demonstrators and others planning their own SLES which sets out a simple process to help identify the elements needed to achieve the desired outcomes and describes various considerations:
- The value that these systems can add alongside energy services including local and environmental benefits, and greater resilience and flexibility;
- Different aspects of smartness that a SLES might have such as communication, automation and engagement;
- How boundaries are defined: by energy use being close to its generation, by its infrastructure or socially, by the people who benefit from or participate in the system.
The findings are being used as the starting point for exploring, in more detail, exactly what is needed to implement a SLES and how it can bring about the outcomes it set out to achieve. By working with experts from across the EnergyREV consortium, we are looking at how a SLES might come about, such as the need for appropriate skills, and the desired outcomes, such as meeting greenhouse gas emissions targets. This will enable us to explore the relationships between them, with the ambition of developing a single overarching representation of all the key factors which could affect or be affected by SLES.
A comprehensive review is also underway to find all relevant evidence on SLES which can be mapped which will enable us to identify evidence where there are strong links, and where there isn’t. Where factors are understood to be influential but evidence is scarce, this will indicate a potentially valuable subject for future research. Regularly engagement between the EnergyREV consortium and the demonstrators to discuss how these line-up with their priorities that will confirm more focused, in-depth reviews that will be carried out. The reviews will help us to improve our understanding of how SLES produce results and answer the key questions that SLES planners and policymakers are asking.