Here at Joju Solar, one of the things we believe in is the power of community energy, and we’ve worked closely with Mike Smyth for many years to install some pioneering community energy projects for schools (and other similar buildings) across the country.
Mike is the former Chair of Friends of the Earth Trust and the current Chair at Energy 4 All, The Schools Energy Co-operative and Wey Valley Solar Schools Energy Co-operative, and he’s always been passionate about environmental matters.
Last year, we completed our 100th project with Mike, and it was a special one… installing solar panels on the cloisters of Salisbury Cathedral. We couldn’t let this pass without catching up with him to talk about the landmark, Mike’s background and his hopes for community energy in the future.
So, grab yourself a cuppa, take ten minutes and listen to Mike’s story and his feelings about reaching 100… installs, of course!
We’re currently building a 2MW community energy scheme with a Welsh community energy group called Awel Amen Tawe. Their Egni Coop is working with Newport Council to install solar on their schools and other public buildings such as the velodrome. Dan McCallum from Egni Coop, has written this rather excellent blog piece, looking at the finer details of the project panning and installation process.
Back in the 1890’s a power station in central Oxford powered a local grid that ran the city. As demand for electrical power grew, many small local networks like this across the country were developed. However, by 1925, such an approach was seen as inefficient and fragmented, and major review was conducted by Lord Weir. The British Government created the Electricity (Supply) Act of 1926, which recommended that a “national gridiron” supply system be created. This was the formation of the National Grid as we know it, a back bone of high-voltage transmission lines feeding lower voltage local distribution networks. One outcome of this, however, was that it supported a model of large centralised electricity generation; many GW of coal, gas and nuclear plants supplying the bulk of our power.
Now, in 2019, the challenges are very different. With the need for rapid decarbonisation of electricity to mitigate climate change, not to mention the fact that renewables are now cost-competitive with traditional generation, we now have many smaller generators connected at the bottom of the electricity grid.
Which poses the question: is the old localised energy grid model a more appropriate way of managing our electricity system in the 21st Century? Has the wheel turned full circle?
This is what a major new project, Project LEO (Local Energy Oxfordshire), is looking to find out.
Project LEO is a £13.8m project over 3 years, run by a consortium of Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks, Open Utility (Piclo), EDF Energy R&D, Nuvvé, Low Carbon Hub, University of Oxford, Oxford City Council, and Oxfordshire County Council. The aim of the project, as the name would suggest, is to develop a local electricity market for Oxfordshire, that supplies its own needs, ensures reliable grid operation, and rewards generators a storage for the energy and flexibility they provide.
Why is this project being developed in Oxfordshire? Currently the grid in Oxfordshire is constrained, meaning it’s hard to connect more renewable energy projects to the grid; the grid is essentially full. There are two potential ways to solve this:
Put another way, lets imagine a new massive solar farm was connected to the grid. In summer the excess power would blow up the existing substations – no-one wants that! So the first option would be to build a new substation at considerable cost. The second option would be to find nearby users to take that excess power, which is likely to be considerably cheaper.
To facilitate this, Project LEO is developing a local energy marketplace, to control and manage the operation of the ‘assets’ in a smart local energy system. These assets might include hydro generation on the Thames which could be ramped up and down, or large heating systems such as the Bodleian book depository, which could be used flexibly according to available renewable power. It could also include smaller solar PV systems, batteries and smart EV charging.
And this is where Joju Solar comes in! We’re going to be working with our long-term community energy partner the Low Carbon Hub to deliver solar and storage projects that integrate with the Project LEO local energy marketplace. Lots of innovation will be required. For example, currently batteries charge from solar, and discharge to meet demand within the home. In future, batteries will still charge from solar, but might discharge when Oxfordshire needs it, rather than when your home needs it. This should reduce costs for everyone, and allow more renewables to be connected to the grid. However, it won’t be easy; devices will need the ability to ‘talk’ to the grid for them to be able to respond to the signals from the local market.
It’s a very exciting step for us – to go beyond simply installing generation and storage in people’s homes and businesses, and actually help create a local smart electricity grid. We can’t wait to get started.
As the electric vehicle market begins to take off, more chargepoints are needed in public locations so that drivers can charge when away from the home. Local councils are therefore providing EV chargepoints in public locations such as car parks, on-street parking bays and Park and Ride schemes.
When Oxford based charity, the Kalinda Foundation, got in touch to see if we could help bring solar to a school in Kenya, of course we said yes! Ricard Aiguabella presents the first of a series of guest blogs on the project.
Why would a cooperative energy supplier from the Black Forest in Southern Germany sue the European Commission for the building of a nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point C? Our 2017 intern from Germany, Fridolin Dorwarth explains.
We are in the middle of an Energy Transition right now!! Philosopher and author Roman Krznaric looks at how this will change our lives and society in ways that are unimaginable.