As the transition towards a more sustainable, distributed energy model has gathered pace, the number of local and community scale energy projects in the UK has increased.
These projects are typically set up to address local issues with energy supply, such as high energy costs, inefficiencies and poor security of supply (though a number of additional benefits can also be achieved). This is achieved by using locally available human and energy resources, along with external support in the form of advice, funding and technical expertise.
The result is a growing number of local energy projects and initiatives which range in age, size, location and complexity, unique to their own setting and circumstances. In remote and island communities such as the Scottish islands of Eigg and Fairisle, the development of local energy systems has seen dated and unreliable technologies such as diesel generators replaced with renewable alternatives. This can bring a host of local economic, social and environmental benefits.
Community initiatives also tend to be rooted in sustainability. In Ashton Hayes, Cheshire, the aim of becoming England’s first “carbon neutral community” has given rise to a wide portfolio of local initiatives which include education as well as more practical projects, such as the establishment of a community energy company and the installation of solar panels.
Such projects are not limited to rural areas however. Organisations such as Energise Barnsley – set up to deliver community owned renewable energy and heating projects in the South Yorkshire borough – show that local benefits can also be achieved in urban areas. The recent growth in district heating projects, which are particularly suited to urban areas, also illustrates the potential benefits of local energy projects in urban areas.
Recent years have also seen the integration of Electric Vehicles into local energy systems. In Leven, Fife, hydrogen produced using electricity generated by a local wind turbine is used to fuel one of Europe’s largest hydrogen vehicle fleets, as well as provide heat and power to a local development.Each Smart Local Energy Systems (SLES) project faces a series of technical, social and economic challenges. The technical challenges faced by SLES can include all aspects of system design and operation, from the selection and sizing of renewable energy systems, to the deployment of smart appliances and technology. Overcoming these challenges is an essential part of ensuring that SLES provide an efficient and reliable alternative to traditional energy supply.
In tackling these challenges, existing SLES have accrued vast amounts of valuable knowledge and experience. EnergyREV will draw on these experiences, by reviewing a number of case studies of existing SLES in the UK and cataloguing their experiences of technical barriers.
We will select case studies based on their technical characteristics and will consist of semi-structured interviews, held with a range of project stakeholders, from planners to end users. This will provide information on the perception and experience of technical barriers from a range of perspectives.
This information will provide valuable insight into key areas for research and policy which, if addressed, could remove or reduce the technical barriers to the wider deployment of SLES in future. The findings and outcomes of the case studies will also be further validated using a questionnaire, which will be circulated to a wider group of existing local energy projects.
We will draw directly on the experience of a variety of existing SLES whose experience represents a vast and underutilised source of valuable information when it comes to upscaling.
Collating and comparing the experience of a range of projects and stakeholders will help the EnergyREV consortium identify key research and policy actions that can be taken to help remove or reduce such barriers in future.
We will compare the experience of projects from different social, economic and geographic/physical settings which will also enable us to identify any common themes or high priority areas in need of development, as well as identifying success stories.
This research will help ensure that the research conducted by the wider EnergyREV consortium is rooted in, and informed by, real-world experience. By identifying what works (and what doesn’t) this research will provide valuable insight and actionable outcomes that can be used across the EnergyREV consortium and the wider PFER program, including the Demonstrator projects. In turn, this should also help ensure that the outcomes of the research will deliver meaningful benefit to new and future SLES.
We will investigate:
- The technical barriers to SLES reported in literature;
- Existing local energy system project databases;
- How experience of technical barriers varies according to project scale, location, technologies used?
- Whether the specific nature of SLES prevents us from identifying models which can be replicated elsewhere as part of scaling up?
- Whether there are any common themes or barriers which could, if addressed, provide the greatest benefit to future SLES?
- How experience/perception of technical barriers varies across different stakeholder groups e.g. consumers, designers, operators?
- The technical barriers presented by the shift towards multi-vector systems (including heat and/or transport as well as electricity);
- Any specific areas of technology which are in need of development in order to realise benefits or remove barriers;
- Any crucial technological interdependencies or combinations which could benefit scale-up;
- Any evidence of innovation in the development of technology which could further support scale-up in future.
Working across the Consortium we will deliver a cohesive overview of what is needed to support the future scale-up of SLES.