As an engineer I am passionate about using technology to improve people's lives and the environment. A growing frustration for me over the last few years has been seeing the way that local communities cannot get the most from their own renewables so I recently decided to develop a new system that, if successful, will save people money and help communities manage their energy consumption in a greener and more efficient way.
At present, our domestic electricity use is sold on a flat tariff. If the power is not used on site, it must be sold at about 5p/kWh and then bought back again for over twice the cost, even though it might have only travelled a few metres to the house next door. This means that the true value of the power is not achieved and it inhibits the growth of local renewable generation and does not keep the income within the local community.
At the same time, on the wholesale market the price of power varies throughout the day but the market framework does not allow these variations to be passed on to customers so they are not rewarded for moving their energy use around in the day. Power at peak times is also more carbon intensive yet there is no disincentive for customers to use power during these times and so a clear means to help tackle fuel poverty and carbon emissions is missed.
However, I believe I have found a means for communities to pool their local generation and use it directly to benefit from 'time of use' prices, by introducing smart meters on a community basis and a home energy management system. The home energy management system shares out the available renewable generation and gives people a helping hand to schedule loads.
The concept is a beautiful mix of market adoption, technology and community work. There are no losers; the environment, locals, suppliers and the energy system all benefit. There should be significant savings even after any additional organisational costs have been factored in, and crucially, it is self-sustaining.
The scheme is a means for people to truly take responsibility for their energy use and play a meaningful and active role in the energy market.
Last year I met with some colleagues and formalised the idea by forming a social enterprise called Energy Local to trial and roll out the idea. We have had tremendous support for the idea from community energy groups, social landlords, local authorities and large organisations, and we also received an RSA Catalyst grant. From there, we developed a pilot working with 7 partners including local charities and are just starting to recruit participants in the area of Shrivenham (near Swindon) to try out the home energy management system and see how people respond.
This is just the first piece in the jigsaw though; we need further trials and help from engineers, market experts, legal and business support to roll the concept out. It could become the standard, self-sustaining way to play an active part in our energy system, suitable for villages, urban areas, flats, around schools, and for social landlords or small groups of shops etc.
We are now thinking ahead to how councils, social landlords and community facilitators could help roll out Energy Local once it’s been proven to work.
Help us create energy efficient communities
If you would like to get involved, there are plenty of roles and skills we need help with:
Accounting and bookkeeping, writing newsletters and updating our website, community engagement, marketing and business planning.
Participate in a trial if you live in Shrivenham.
If you know networks or organisations who are interested in the model let us know.
If you are an engineer in the field of household appliances and can pitch the idea of remote controls to manufacturers, please let us know.
We also need to raise match funding and will be crowd-funding supported by the RSA in the next few months.
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