Working with people directly involved in Smart Local Energy Systems to identify successful ways to engage with users

Working with people directly involved in Smart Local Energy Systems to identify successful ways to engage with users

By Chad Walker, EnergyREV Researcher, University of Exeter 

From December 2019 through February 2020, members of EnergyREV User Engagement team hosted workshops in Oxford, UK for two Prospering from the Energy Revolution (PFER) demonstration projects.  

Through round-table interactive exercises members of Energy Superhub Oxford (ESO) and Local Energy Oxfordshire (LEO) were able to discuss ‘who are users’, ‘who is local?’, and ‘what methods of engagement are you using or planning?’. ‘Sense-making’ exercises were held where a total of 13 attendees—representing business, local councils, community groups, and academia – were asked to expand upon their motivations and plans for user engagement in the ESO and LEO projects.  

Those taking part in the exercises are involved in the delivery of real smart local energy systems and therefore have a practical understanding of the challenges faced. Participants appreciated the creative and engaged activities that the User Engagement team provided, with some noting that: 

“It [made us] get up and do stuff and it makes you think. Sometimes at workshops you can just sit and have people sat quietly sat quietly at the back not really engaging.” 

“[The exercises] will be useful for us to be able to pick up those threads and they’re genuinely, I think that probably has flagged a few additional groups, you know, that we need to think about through the [communication plan] rollout. “ 

There were also some key thematic findings uncovered through the workshops, including the idea that SLES developments should be designed in a way that benefits a broad range of communities, not just those people directly involved (i.e. those with battery storage, an EV, or solar panels): 

“Low-carbon initiatives can be a bit of an expensive luxury, as where we are at the moment…I think we need to think more broadly than [EV] car users to include the community” 

“In doing what we are trying to do, and operate the network, for the benefit of the customers, it’s not simply the customers that are actually directly operating and running the assets if you like. We are operating the work as a whole for the benefit of ALL customers…” 

These insights provide important initial data for our research and will also help the EnergyREV User Engagement team to co-develop research questions based on experience for each case study – including with users themselves. For the broader community interested in innovating smart local energy systems across the UK and beyond, such work will continue to provide the best and most up-to-date findings based on real experiences that can help to shape best practices in SLES development, and accelerate the diffusion of successful low-carbon initiatives across the UK.