Nextgen conference explores turning the current energy model on its head

by Andre Burgess. Published Fri 19 Sep 2014 15:05, Last updated: 2014-09-19
Distributed Generation (DG) is a central theme of this year’s NextGen Conference programme,
Distributed Generation (DG) is a central theme of this year’s NextGen Conference programme,

The era of the centralised electricity system model is coming to an end. This is the conclusion of a recent report published by the Institute for Public Policy Research, “A new Approach to Electricity markets: how New, Disruptive Technologies change everything”.

The report states that rapid cost reductions and innovation are occurring in ‘smart’ distributed electricity technologies (DETs) that disrupt how electricity systems traditionally operate.

Distributed Generation (DG) and the opportunity this presents for communities and Local Authorities is a central theme of this year’s NextGen Conference programme, with a whole theatre dedicated to Municipal Energy.

Speakers on this subject include Dr. Alan Whitehead MP, Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group; Mark Bramah, Director of APSE Energy; Simon Woodward, Chairman of the UK District Energy Association; Jonny Williams, head of the BRE National Solar Centre; Steven Gough, Innovation and Low Carbon Networks Engineer at Western Power Distribution and Dr. Richard Williams, Senior Research Fellow, University of Southampton, Energy and Climate Change Division.

DG technologies are set to transform how energy systems operate, bringing to an end the dominance of centralised generation and distribution. This emerging decentralized energy system is in turn more competitive, resulting in lower tariffs, greater local control and resilience, as well as reduced emissions.

The opportunities, which DG offers to towns and cities, are considerable, and local authorities are already taking advantage of DG to benefit their local areas. Cities can use DG to improve their local economies in several ways. Jobs can be created and local training and skills development opportunities provided.

For example, Lambeth Council has done this through three solar PV installations on social housing estates in Brixton. Additionally, cities can support their residents to invest in and benefit from DG. By way of example, the Bristol Solar City project is setting out to install 1GW of solar PV by 2020, and is creating a structure for local community groups to be able to invest in installations on council properties rent-free.

Improvement of municipal finances is another benefit. Income can be generated directly when generation is owned, or indirectly through the business rates retention scheme and DG sited on public buildings can also reduce spending on energy bills.

But for this potential to be fulfilled there are barriers to growth in DG that cities need to help address. Some of these barriers are beyond the control of cities because they relate directly to national government policy – for example, how subsidy mechanisms have been designed, how subsidies are allocated between technologies, and issues with planning – and must be addressed at that level.

Cities can, however, support DG by providing project developers with a new route to market, which is currently hampered by the uncompetitive approach to PPA’s. By engaging in energy supply, cities could become a new source of PPAs for DG, thereby incentivising developments in their area. To further encourage developers, cities could offer additional support – for example, help with project coordination and planning – alongside a PPA.

The work of APSE Energy is instrumental in trying to overcome some of these barriers and to help Local Authorities regain control of energy generation and supply. APSE’s Local Authority Energy Collaboration seeks to leverage and maximise the opportunities afforded to local authorities by working together on a national scale in the green energy agenda.

Stephen Cirell, (Stephen Cirell Consultancy Ltd) who works with APSE Energy on this collaboration will be talking on this subject at the conference and states that "LAs are now moving past simple electricity generation (such as solar or wind) and instead looking at how the electricity that they generate might be used to gain social advantage.”

The session Municipal Energy: the local Authority Role” takes place at 1035 am on Wednesday 8th October. The full Municipal Energy Theatre programme can be viewed here.

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