System Integration

Why is system integration important for smart local energy systems?

The integration and scale up of smart local energy systems (SLES) into national energy systems will play a central role in helping move towards a net zero future. Local and community energy projects provide valuable insights on the barriers to scale up and help to identify the ways in which they can be mitigated or removed in future.

Fortunately we can draw on a vast source of practical knowledge and expertise in this effort.  Our initial review identified over 500 local energy projects and initiatives that have been implemented in the UK alone since the 1990’s. Such projects showcase a wide variety of technologies, ownership models and scales, and have enjoyed varying degrees of success. We are utilising this vast resource of knowledge to understand the opportunities for scaling up SLES and the technical aspects of SLES projects that create barriers to scale up.

What are the EnergyREV team doing in this area?

Over the last year we have been collecting case study data from a number of community energy projects within the UK. As we move into analysing this data we will be producing a range of outputs to share some of the key insights and opportunities for SLES integration and scale up.

We have also compiled a database of the publicly available information on current and historic local energy projects with the UK. This will be available on the EnergyREV website along with an interactive map showing the type and location of over 750 projects.

In the future, our research will shift towards the evaluation and modelling of the critical interdependencies which exist within SLES. We will also examine the interoperability requirements of SLES in more detail to further our understanding of how future systems can best utilise technology to meet our energy demands.

How is EnergyREV exploring these issues?

Our research draws on the experience of those involved in delivering SLES projects, placing emphasis on the technical challenges and barriers they face. This is being achieved using a number of specially selected case studies of UK-based SLES.

We have used detailed desktop reviews and analysis along with semi-structured interviews with key project stakeholders – everyone from planners to end users, to explore a number of key questions, such as:

  • What were the main technical challenges faced?
  • What were the contributing factors?
  • How were these challenges addressed, and how successfully?

This research is helping us to identify the technical aspects of SLES projects which act as barriers to scale-up.

What are the emerging insights?

Our case studies have shown that technical challenges cannot (and should not) be separated from non-technical aspects of SLES. Several instances have shown that technical issues can be the result of non-technical issues elsewhere in a project, and these can have a significant impact upon other aspects of project delivery, operation etc.

Our work also suggests that, for the most part, the technology required to deliver successful and effective SLES already exists. Significant challenges still remain however, with new and emerging areas such as the integration of electric vehicles into our energy systems and the role of grid-balancing services adding significant complexity to SLES and their design and operation. As such, the need for intelligent, resilient and flexible systems is the primary driver for the technical development of SLES at present.

The case studies and wider reviews of local energy projects in the UK support the view that current knowledge sharing and dissemination practices in the sector are largely ineffective. We have found that post-project reporting is often insufficient in depth and scope, which suggests that it is not treated as a priority by project teams or funding bodies. This is an area for change.

Case study findings also show that upscaling can be achieved in different ways, hinting at the need for a more holistic understanding of what upscaling actually means within the context of SLES, and how best to promote it in future.