- Looking to a community-based energy system for the future
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 are 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. In this blog, we introduce the concept, what it means, and what we hope to learn from our trials.
At Project LEO, 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’re doing.
The range of trials Project LEO is undertaking are working 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 are looking at how we can educate and empower communities and individuals (energy users) to co-ordinate how they generate, use, manage and store electricity for the collective social, financial and environmental benefit of all.
What is a ‘Community of MPANs’?
We refer to these groups of energy users as a Community of MPANs (meter point administration number: the point of change between the energy network and the customer) and our definition of this is:
“A collaborative scheme between energy system users who co-ordinate the way they consume, generate, and store electricity, and manage their allocated capacity in the system to maximise the benefit to the community, other customers, the network and the system.”
It’s looking at a new way that energy is generated, used and stored. So instead of a one-way linear flow that goes from a big energy supplier to the end-user and is inflexible and provides limited benefits to the community or the customer, we’re exploring models where individuals and neighbourhoods can co-ordinate their energy usage and storage. The end goal is to make our energy system cleaner, more flexible and smarter to meet the needs of the future.
Our Community of MPANs Report, released in September last year, takes an in-depth look at the concept of a Community of MPANS, how it aligns with the desire to move from a one-way energy generator to user system to a decentralised, local energy system, where flexibility means users can play an active role in how they use, generate and store electricity.
Key to the Community of MPANs concept is our understanding that while we are making good progress in supporting and implementing single house energy systems that optimise self-consumption (making the best use of self-generated electricity e.g. through solar panels on our roofs or heat pumps to heat our homes). The community of MPANs looks at a bigger picture, building on what we already know and exploring the additional value that can be created when a group of households, businesses and/or community-owned energy assets work together, co-ordinating their efforts for the most beneficial outcomes for all.
Potential models of MPAN communities
There are, of course, various levels that the Community of MPANs concept can work and the paper outlines what these are. The models all move on from the self-consumption phase and become increasingly complex as the number of participants increases.
At Project LEO, we’re working at the simplest, ‘starter’ level of the Virtual MPAN in our Smart and Fair Neighbourhood (SFN) trials as it’s important for us that the model needs to work at the entry-level on its own merit and that it has still to be demonstrated technically, as well as socially and commercially. The table below shows the various potential models and how they work.
- ESCO = Energy Services Company
- MPAN = Meter Point Administration Number
What are the benefits and roles?
We want to understand the benefits of a place-based approach to energy use and supply and how a flexible and collaborative energy network can create a shift in how we create, use, store and share our electricity. The diagram below illustrates this shift.
The report highlights how the Project LEO trials aim to also help us learn what models are the most scale-able and replicable (i.e. technically feasible, commercially viable and socially desirable).
The Community of MPANs report also explains why we want to learn how community energy providers such as project partner Low Carbon Hub can perform a number of roles in this new energy system, potentially taking on a scheme coordinator role while maintaining a collaborative, opt-in principle or as a delivery agent for local authorities and how much of a community benefit fund will be needed to support these roles in the future.
The paper also outlines the expected benefits of the community of MPANs concept, grouped into 3 categories:
Benefits for the individual: For example, the creation of a fair local energy system that leaves no one behind and creates social, environmental and financial benefits.
Benefits for the catalysing community: For example, encouraging people to work collectively to solve local issues, such as rolling out an electric car (EV) programme or switching from fossil fuel reliance in heating.
Benefits for the network: For example exploring how increases in flexibility within the energy supply and demand can make more efficient use of the existing network capacity.
Testing the Smart Fair Neighbourhoods approach
The paper goes on to show how the Project LEO Smart Fair Neighbourhood (SFN) Trials fit in with the MPAN community concept. Each of the SFN trials fit in with the Project LEO model of being technically feasible, commercially viable and socially desirable and the paper then outlines how each of these place-based trials could fit within the CoMPAN model. You can read more about the objectives of our SFN trials here.
It also explains how the Home Owners Pioneers for Energy (HOPE) project is a precursor to working with households in each of the Smart and Fair Neighbourhoods, by working with five households to understand the technical, commercial, and social opportunities and issues to address at the level of the individual household, or MPAN.
This paper sets out how Project LEO will identify and test the Community of MPANs concept as a way of organising place-based community-led action at the grid edge and how we are starting from the level of the single household or business to understand what technical and commercial issues need to be addressed for the ‘self-consumption’ model to work.
Through our trials, we aim to learn what capabilities are needed for a household to implement the model and what benefits the customers and the energy system might gain from mass individual action based on the Community of MPANs model.