- Building Blocks of a Smart Community Energy System
Building an energy system with value for all
During the course of Project LEO, we have often talked about Smart Community Energy Systems (SCES). Many of our trials – in particular, the Smart Fair Neighbourhoods trials – were a vital step in gaining the insights we need to make our community energy systems smarter and more flexible. These trials and learnings have not been a technical or academic study, they are looking at real-life situations where we can make changes to the way we generate, use and store electricity that creates real value for all.
Part of our mission was to make this energy transition accessible and while many of the components and assets required are highly technical in nature, in this short piece, we introduce the concept of a Smart Community Energy System, what it means, and what we hope to learn from our trials as well as looking at what the key components are.
As a way of introduction, we can look at Smart Community Energy Systems as the theory and our Smart Fair Neighbourhoods trials as examples of putting this into practice.
Why do we need Smart Community Energy Systems?
As the UK looks towards ways of meeting our ambitious net-zero goals, it has become clear that as well as a commitment to major economic and policy changes at the government and corporate level, local community engagement and participation will be vital to our success.
In Project LEO we have been trialling and testing a new concept we’re calling the ‘Community of MPANs’ – a way for people and communities to work collectively to benefit from the transition to a net zero energy system. Our trials have looked at ways communities, households and businesses can work together to create a more flexible local energy system, one that generates, shares and has control over the usage of its own energy.
The benefits of this span beyond saving money on bills. By looking at how communities can collaborate and work with local authorities, suppliers and networks to make the most of the energy we create, we can start to see how a future energy system will be of value to everyone – our planet included.
What has Project LEO looked at?
We have been running collaborative trials that will inform our transition to a smarter, flexible energy network and local engagement is key to what we’ve been doing. The range of trials Project LEO has undertaken worked at a ‘hyper local’ level to help us understand more about how place-based community action can play a part in the net-zero energy system of the future.
Our trials have looked at how we can educate and empower communities and individuals (energy users) to coordinate how they generate, use, manage and store electricity for the collective social, financial and environmental benefit of all.
A good example of this is the Rose Hill Solar Saver Trials. Rose Hill has been one of six place-based trials we undertook around Oxfordshire, exploring the practicalities of an equitable energy transition using heat pumps, batteries, solar PV and smart technology. The aim of the trial was to understand how people living in flats can still benefit from solar panels, even if they do not own them and don’t own the electricity they generate. The trial concluded that it is possible for residents to shift their energy use in a way that makes better use of the electricity generated onsite by the rooftop solar panels.
What is needed?
For this type of complex, flexible energy system to work, there are many different moving parts that need to work together.
Project LEO identified 5 key building blocks for a SCES and below, we briefly explain what each building block consists of and examples of what they might be.
This is an obvious element of any energy system. By physical elements, we mean any piece of equipment, technology or kit that generates, stores or uses electricity within a SCES. These elements all play an important role in the day-to-day use of energy and we’re looking at new and innovative ways that they can connect and work together to be more efficient.
- Domestic rooftop solar panels
- Community solar farms
- Hydro generators
- Domestic or business battery storage
- Community battery storage
- Electric Vehicle chargers and Electric Vehicles
- Washing machines or other household electrical appliances
- Heat pumps
- Smart meters
Project LEO started out with the firm belief that the only way our energy transition can work is if we take every single person with us to create a new system that is far for all. So, participants are absolutely vital to the success of a SCES. Participants are the people and organisations that use, generate and/or store electricity within a SCES.
- Local businesses
- Community energy organisations
- Energy Network Providers
We’ve learned that SCES cannot function successfully without the introduction of additional services required by participants that enable their electricity generation, use and/or storage to be controlled in order to meet specific goals.
Examples of these are:
- Special use tariffs
- Supply and installation of Physical Elements (kit or equipment)
- Legal and commercial arrangements
- Participant dashboard apps to monitor and control use/generation/storage
These are the practical results that make smart & flexible energy systems effective in reducing cost, carbon emissions or pressure on local energy networks.
Looking at things like:
- Metering of energy
- Control and optimisation of energy generation, use and storage (flexibility)
- Trading of energy and capacity in a marketplace
There are a group of businesses, community organisations and local authorities that play a vital role in the wider community engagement with SCES. though not technically participants in the system, these organisations each offer something to support the success of a SCES.
- Funding organisations
- Partners such as Low Carbon Hub and SSEN
- Other Community Energy organisations
- Supporters/energy champions/partners
- Local authorities/councils
Demonstrating what a Smart Community Energy System could look like.
Part of what Project LEO has been looking into is how these smart energy systems could work in reality and we undertook a number of place-based trials within communities around Oxford to test the running of various energy flexibility services and assets.
One of these Smart and Fair Neighbourhood trials took place with residents of Osney Island, a riverside community in west Oxford, where we recruited a group of households and businesses who had either existing solar panels, batteries or both or they had these installed for the trial. Participants agreed to share data with us on how much energy they generate and use throughout the day, using smart technology.
Our recent blog on the Osney Island trial showcases examples of the data captured during the trial to create an overall picture of Osney’s energy generation and demand and break this down into a series of interactive dashboards that look at overall local energy generation, where it comes from at different times, how much of it is being used locally and if and when it is being exported to the local network.
This data can then be used to help balance the required energy being fed into the neighbourhood from the grid and enable homes and businesses to adopt a more flexible approach to their energy system. This is a perfect example of how a Smart Community Energy System could work in the future, demonstrating how energy use and generation can be created and managed locally and at a household level, enabling us to minimise the need for supply from the grid.
Collaborative solutions for the future
We hope this article has helped to explain the need for Smart Community Energy Systems as well as the role of each of the components that are needed to work together to make them a success. Through Project LEO, we have developed our understanding of SCES and this knowledge is growing and developing, informing not only our own learnings but influencing the roll out of flexible smart energy systems everywhere.
29th March 2023