Beyond the pilots: Current local energy systems in the UK

Tim Braunholtz-Speight, Maria Sharmina, Dimitrios Pappas, Janette Webb, Matthew Hannon, and Fabián Fuentes González

16 May 2022

The smart local energy systems (SLES) approach to the energy transition often seems like a radical departure from the present day UK energy system. Nevertheless, there are local energy systems in operation all around the country on a ‘business as usual’ basis. This report presents the findings from research with the operators of 29 local energy systems across the UK.

We find that there is a great diversity of types, shapes and sizes of local energy system in the UK today. Often they are ultimately managed by organisations outside the core energy sector, including local authorities, industrial estate companies, housing bodies, and universities. Our report provides an overview of the range of technologies, activities, and scales of these systems, and explores their finances, governance, and environmental and social aspects.

Despite the challenges of working somewhat ‘against the grain’ of the UK energy system, almost all the system operators in our study are working on expanding the scale, scope or ‘smartness’ of their systems. We provide suggestions for ways in which policy and practice can help today’s local energy systems play their part in the transition to the SLES of the future.