Calling for an open standards approach to energy system innovation in Paris

by Blog

As energy organisations, academics and companies gathered in Paris to attend the UK-France Smart Energy Bilateral Workshop and discuss all things ‘smart’, Jonathan Atkinson reports on the event and what he took from it.

We were delighted to be invited to the Smart Energy workshop Paris in February 2019 attended by a range of knowledgable and experienced practitioners from every part of the energy system in both the UK and France. For us, it was particularly useful to be able to use the closing panel as an opportunity to argue the case for new government mandated open standards to ensure a level playing field for domestic demand side response and local flexibility markets.

The invitation to attend follows reports we authored with Regen in the summer of 2018, assessing the development and potential value of local flexibility markets and promoting the idea of a Community Energy-led approach to aggregation.

The day began with a visit to EDF’s smart grid R&D test site at Fontainbleau, where new energy system installations and configurations are tested. The afternoon started back at the British Embassy with a keynote speech from Professor John Loughhead, the BEIS Chief Scientific advisor who argued for the need to develop more smart systems as a way to encourage decarbonisation and renewable energy generation – but he questioned whether sufficient progress had been made in achieving this and why that might be the case.

Will Broad, Head of Smart Energy Policy, and Miriam Hall International Smart Energy Innovation Lead at BEIS outlined UK Government policy on smart energy – including steps to enable more electric vehicle ownership, the electrification of heat and the use of more flexible systems such as battery storage – all in order to facilitate the decarbonisation of the system needed to meet carbon reduction targets. They highlighted the huge investment BEIS and other agencies are making in realising this agenda through innovation funding relating to the Clean Growth Strategy.

During the closing panel discussion on inter-operability, I and other panelists outlined the ‘zoo’ of competing standards and systems that make it so challenging for consumers to make the most of their smart devices such as batteries, electric vehicles or heat pumps. The same zoo has also prevented grid actors such as DNOs, system operators and suppliers from realising the potential flexibility of aggregated domestic devices – and creating a viable demand side response market.

I went on to highlight the example of the state of California, where a specific demand side response standard – OpenADR – has been mandated by regulators in state Building Codes since 2015. A single, unified and compulsory standard, open and accountably drawn up and managed, means that technology providers, architects and retailers all work to the same ends. As a result, utilities can run successful demand side response campaigns and end consumers understand products that meet this standard can generate income when participating in such campaigns.

The challenge I made during the panel was to Governments and regulators to follow suit and mandate such a standard in the UK and France – kick starting a similar market and enabling companies to exploit opportunities on both sides of the channel.

The debate also enabled me to argue for citizen participation and ownership of energy system actors as a way to achieve the consent and legitimacy necessary in adopting new smart systems and increasing the levels of renewable energy generation on the electricity grid. I made the point that fundamentally, energy demand reduction is required to make the clean energy transition – we cannot support the same level of domestic energy use, car journeys and plane travel – let alone plan to increase these, no matter how ‘clean’ the means of energy generation or ‘smart’ the systems to manage it.

A very interesting discussion followed with many contributions arguing for the need for Governments to move away from purely ‘market-led’ solutions to the energy transition and to accept that a ‘lowest-price’ driven approach might not create the most effective system.

To round off a packed day, and perhaps something of a highlight, I hired a Velib electric bike to get me across Paris to the Eurostar. An estimated 35 minute taxi ride completed in just 15 minutes: now that is smart!