The Nobel Grid project was an EU Horizon 2020 project which ran from 2014 – 2018. It involved testing a range of smart metering and low carbon technologies, like batteries and smart EV chargers. Carbon Co-op piloted a community smart grid in Manchester and Lancaster with 100 households and businesses, assisting them to work together to save energy, reduce bills and reduce carbon emissions and to provide tools and new business models for ESCOs, aggregators and DNOs.
The project aims were to assist three main stakeholder types:
- Householders – increasingly regarded as ‘prosumers’ (producers-consumers)
- Intermediaries eg aggregators such as energy co-operatives that aggregate services for prosumers and grid operators; and ESCOs, ie energy services companies offering a mixture of services from energy retailing to retrofit financing and delivery
- DNOs (District Network Operators) – tasked with maintaining the local grid network, offering new connections to renewables and balancing loads in a changing era of distributed energy generation
ii) A co-operative approach
Uniquely, NOBEL Grid used five co-operative, civic and not-for-profit demonstrator sites around Europe for the project. It tested not just technical capabilities but also how ‘co-operative action’ can offer an advantage over traditional, market based approaches.
The sites were:
- Belgium: EcoPower Coop, a renewable energy co-op supplying 60,000 members in Flanders
- Terni, Italy – a municipal authority of 60,000 properties that acts as the DNO for the town
- Alginet, Spain – a town of 6,000 homes owns the local grid and supplies energy to members
- Athens, Greece – a collection of seaside holiday homes all on a single grid
- Carbon Coop, Manchester – aggregating demand for energy efficiency products and services
iii) Demo site Manchester – Carbon Coop
The project will take place with between 100 and 200 homes. The householder mix is as yet undefined but a possible breakdown is:
- Social housing homes, geographically clustered eg. Homes for Change/Work for Change in Hulme, testing solar production and storage facilities; Eastlands homes with air source heat pumps already installed to test automation of demand
- Carbon Coop owner occupiers, householders, distributed around the city region, committed and interested in reducing home carbon emissions and in testing new energy services and products
Householders will get one or a number of the following:
- A free, new SLAM (Smart Low-cost Advanced Meters) to replace their existing meter
- An SMX box – a Linux-based device, likely to be an advanced OpenEnergyMonitor to facilitate new energy services
- An energy app, integrated into Carbon Coop’s existing site and tools, enabling householders to understand current and past energy usage and benefit from energy services offered through the project
- Up to five 10Kw storage batteries – likely to be deployed in communal sites rather than individual homes due to high value
- ‘Smart’ home technologies such as LED lighting and/or heating/appliance controls
- We would also like to offer discounted solar panels to householders
Services to be tested in the project
- Green Electricity shifting – notifications to Carbon Coop members to encourage use of electricity at times when generated energy mix is highest for renewables
- Automated demand shifting and optimisation in homes using a heat pumps
- Maximising prosumer carbon neutral homes – maximising use of solar PV generated energy on site through use of smart technologies and/or storage
…all services will involve householders in the design, implementation and evaluation of the project, ie householder set the criteria for automation, rewards are shared throughout the householder group.
Due to existing regulatory restrictions it is likely that the activities tested in the project will inform future services and will act as effective research to inform government and EU lobbying. Eg it is not currently possible to offer flexible pricing but the pilot could offer incentives for effective demand shifting.
iv) Stakeholder engagement
Carbon Co-op, its members and other organisations may benefit from the project in a number of ways:
Enabling householders to access new services to save money, energy and carbon emissions, enabling householders to co-operate and share benefits collectively.
eg Community Energy organisations, the project enables such organisations to test aggregation testing, developing business models, testing the technical feasibility of services.
eg Local Authorities, working alone or with community energy organisations, similarly testing the market for potential services, developing business models, testing the technical feasibility of services.
eg Electricity North West, the project aims to develop a ‘SCADA’ system for the low voltage network to ensure effective monitoring of quality and consistancy as well as piloting demand response.
eg Loughborough University, University of Manchester, provision of research and data collection services, participants for future research.
Eg OpenEnergyMonitor, URBED, Demand Energy Equality, provision of technical services and consultancy on the project
2. Rationale – why do this?
There is much discussion on the make up and composition of future energy networks, ie how energy will be generated, supplied and used. Many actors, including DECC, agree that there is a clear role for Community Energy organisations in developing these systems and acting as aggregators between householders and energy companies and grid organisations.
Current energy systems:
- Demand for energy doesn’t match supply of energy, ie we want to use energy at different times to when it’s cheap and plentiful. Hence dirty, old forms of power generation are used with lots of associated waste.
- The grid is structured in such a way that we have large, dirty power stations in some areas and population centres in other areas, lots of energy is wasted transporting power from one to the other.
- The grid and the generation of energy is owned by large, multinational corporations who generally exploit customers and operate the system to maximise profits
Future energy systems:
- Demand better matches supply: Smart energy monitors enable householders to better match supply and demand, through behavioural change, automation of services and community energy storage
- Community smart grids enable de-centralised forms of community and householder owned energy generation and supply, including community wind turbines, community solar banks, Electric Vehicle car share schemes etc. The grid is more efficient and less dependent on large power stations and more able to balance load locally and regionally.
- Community smart grids and householder aggregation offer the ability for community and civic ownership of the grid and supply of energy, offering an alternative to corporate control of the power supply.
3. Why Carbon Co-op?
- The project offers the potential for Carbon Co-op to offer a range of carbon reduction services to members, including an enhanced OpenEnergyMonitor service providing information on energy usage, integration in to whole house assessment service, piloting of battery storage units (with integration of solar panels – possibly paid for by project), installation of other energy saving appliances eg smart lighting systems.
- It also offers the potential to pilot energy services provision, to explore the option of becoming an ESCO ie selling electricity to members or selling ‘heat and comfort’ ie financing retrofit, running services such as community electric vehicles, installing low voltage DC networks and even integrating community wind turbines
- Above all the project demonstrates that householders working in collaboration via a co-operative intermediary can achieve carbon reduction measures more effectively that they can alone or than traditional energy companies can.
This project is unique in the UK in its scope, scale and co-operative element.
There is a small but growing interest from other community energy groups in the sector as evidenced by the Local Electricity Markets conference in Bath:
There are a couple of similar projects taking place in Orkney and Mull being run by Community Energy Scotland.