Community Scale Power Generation

An avenue for renewables?

Community scale and community owned power generation schemes are gathering more and more support across the UK and there is a significant role to play for the emerging renewables sector.

The National Grid was set up with the express intent of getting the electrical power from fossil fueled power stations out to the customer. The emergence of renewable energy sources, particularly for those not located near distribution networks, has faced challenges integrating into this rather one-way system. However, given pressing emissions targets and the pressure to keep the lights on the potential for renewable schemes at a community level is now gaining traction.

Overall, the National Grid is made up of smaller segments managed by the Distribution Network Operators (DNOs). Within each DNO will be area of high demand that can be challenging to meet, these are the areas they are most keen to implement more community scale systems. Moreover, with the energy landscape evolving to meet emissions targets and the changes in the way we use energy (use of electric vehicles and heat pumps), a more cost effective solution needs to be implemented. Ofgem estimates there could be cost savings of £17-40 billion by 2050 (link).

To try and realise these cost savings there are three main avenues of funding for projects investigating the potential of various novel community scale power generation schemes:

Ofgem

The fixed, annual Network Innovation Allowance (NIA) is there to fund projects that could benefit the DNOs and their customers. There is also the Electricity Network Innovation Competition (£70m per year) to support innovative projects such s community scale power generation schemes, as long as it demonstrates potential long term cost reductions for customers.

UK Government

The Energy Systems Catapult (link), Innovate UK and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) can all offer funded support for projects that are reducing emissions and making the National Grid more effective and more suited to modern energy consumption.

EU funded programmes

Via the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, community owned power projects could gain support if they are working towards one of the H2020 objectives. Previous projects Nobel Grid and Project Sensible have been funded through Horizon 2020.

UK Distribution Network Operators

Image Source: ENA & Regen SW

Tidal & Wave Resource

Data Source: UK Renewables Atlas

In order to receive funding for a community scale power generation project the project must be novel and not have been done before, involve the development or demonstration of new ideas changing the way the grid is operated, deliver benefits to the network and have potential to save the customers money. Quite a demanding set of requirements! All projects (if funded by the above sources) would need collaboration with a DNO and it is important to engage with your local DNO as early as possible if you are planning a community scale power generation project.

We think that there is potentially a funded project involving marine renewables most likely in tandem with energy storage. The potential is there for an innovative project using a type of renewable energy not used in a community based study before. Marine renewables, and in particular tidal energy, offer a predictable source of energy, but not necessarily when the consumer wants it, hence the combination with storage. The enhanced predictability opens up the options of smarter grid networks (when to charge electric vehicles to smooth peaks, when to store energy, when to feed into the grid etc.). The deployment of more marine renewables will only help with cost reduction (see previous blog), meeting emissions targets and developing coastal industry, and this project will help understand how to make best use of the energy that they can provide. The potential for community projects will be dependent on local resource, but areas all long the western coast, islands north of Scotalnd and around the Isle of Wight have potential to support marine renewable devices.

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