New Tools and Frameworks

How do Smart Local Energy Systems grow and how can they be replicated?

To help understand how smart local energy systems (SLES) can be part of a national energy transition, we have to understand what drives and what prevents ‘upscaling’, that is either the increase in scale or capabilities of an existing SLES or the replication of one system in other places, or both. ‘upscaling’ is seen as both unless specified differently.

What works well in one place may not be successful elsewhere, it may not work at the same scale, or a different scale, or may have a negative impact at a national scale. Unless we understand the dynamics and logic of upscaling and/or growth of SLES, these systems will remain few in number and their potential to contribute to the national transition towards a national low carbon energy system will remain untapped. The EnergyREV consortium and wider PFER network provides an opportunity to evaluate this.

Two different dimensions need to be investigated to make this assessment:

  1. What works: What drivers and barriers exist that prevent or support upscaling of local smart energy systems? There are two avenues that can be used to provide the answers:
    1. a substantial multidisciplinary review of the literature that leads to a conceptual model of what the drivers and barriers for upscaling are.
    2. The PFER demonstrator projects (and others) and workshops with other stakeholders will be used to test the findings of the review work. These will have a special focus, to understand the technical issues and barriers, preventing grid upscaling.
  2. Consequential impacts: a system may be very successful in one location at a contained size but it may be difficult to see it grow or its success may be too dependent on local factors preventing replication elsewhere with ease or success. So a deeper understanding how local SLES are established and what could be the unintended consequences of growth (and of replication elsewhere) are is essential.
How will EnergyREV deliver unique and useful insights?

Scaling up SLES projects in both size and in different locations is vital but to become reality, it has to be economically viable, socially desirable and environmentally acceptable. Stakeholders currently delivering SLES are focussed on delivering individual projects for individual clients successfully but this approach typically lacks the overview perspective to understand what is required for growth and replication.

Stakeholders who are interested in replicating projects are generally only interested in individual aspects of replicability such as Regulation or a particular technology rather than the whole system.

EnergyREV will investigate SLES holistically using a broad framework. This will cover the EnergyREV themes of infrastructure, business and finance, policy and markets and users. These themes will help to capture the range of drivers and barriers in a structured way from different areas of expertise.

Case studies and the PFER demonstrators will be used to evaluate the themes.

What will the new tools and frameworks team deliver for EnergyREV?

A very broad literature review has been conducted that trawled for all relevant paper on renewable, transition, energy, policy or grid aspects, yielding over 10,000 references initially. These were whittled down to 1,400 very useful references with about 40 key papers. The review was deliberately broad as multidisciplinary papers that specifically address the technical and non-technical aspects of upscaling were extremely rare. The papers found were challenging due to the interdisciplinary nature of the subject with most papers from individual disciplines - technical papers covering technical aspects, policy papers looking at policy etc.

Many papers highlighted dynamics relevant for upscaling, but did so in a way that was difficult to transfer as explanations were not clear about how the barriers were overcome, what the specific causes for the opportunities to arise were, and whether there were side-effects that may well be a problem in other settings.

In addition, the papers generally focussed on the successes at the expense of an open discussion on what did not work. Although understandable, this lack of an acknowledgement of where things did not work so well hinders replication of the success and what may need to be adapted in other locations. Almost all papers were descriptive and analytical, but lacked normative ambition towards programmatic change.

The papers were used to extract causal links between different aspects of upscaling, for example, a greater efficiency of PV panels lead to improved revenues, and improved revenues lead to greater economic interest for potential investors. Generally, papers suggest a causal link where A leads to B, others discuss how C leads to D, and other papers explore how B leads to C. Therefore, it should be possible to combine these causal links into an overall pathway leading A to D.

Over 250 causal links have been clustered and sequenced during workshops involving experts to produce an overall map of how SLES and their upscaling works in a multidisciplinary way that allows a subsequent review of the essential nodes that support or prevent upscaling. This is the current state of progress so far.