New energy report outlines a civic energy future

Loughborough University energy researchers have released a new report which finds up to 50 per cent of electricity demand in the UK could be met by distributed low carbon sources by 2050, while reducing greenhouse gas emission by 80%.

The Distributing Power: A transition to a civic energy future report has been produced by academics from nine leading UK Universities, including Loughborough, which make up the EPSRC-funded Realising Transition Pathways Research Consortium.

The report assesses the technological feasibility of a move from the current traditional business models of the ‘Big Six’ energy providers to a model where greater ownership is in the hands of the civic energy sector. It also goes further by questioning what types of governance, ownership and control a distributed future would need.

A major driver for this transition would be a step change in the role of the civic energy sector (communities, co-operatives, local authorities, town and parish councils, social housing providers) through participation in, and ownership of, electricity generation schemes.

Currently, less than one per cent of UK electricity demand is met by community or local authority-owned distributed electricity generation. And, although challenging, an increase to a 50 per cent market share by 2050 is technologically feasible.

Some of the key findings of the report include:

  • National energy planning with regional and local support for a civic energy sector would be needed, resulting in a much greater role for national and local government.
  • A high-level of distributed generation would require an increase in regional, national and international interconnection, such as electricity imports from neighbouring countries. Distributed energy systems have previously often been equated with increased energy independence.
  • The traditional business models of the ‘Big Six’ would be challenged as they lose market share to local generation and supply businesses.
  • Much of the energy value that is currently lost from the UK economy could be captured at local level.
  • Significant reduction in electricity demand would be necessary through increasing energy efficiency and conservation; households would need to more than halve current levels of electricity consumption by 2050.
  • New infrastructure, like smart-grids and emerging technologies such as in-home fuel cells, would be necessary; large-scale expansion would need to occur from 2020 onwards.
  • The impact to consumer bills would be marginally more expensive in the medium term to 2030; it would be significantly cheaper in the long-term to 2050, compared to two other scenarios considered by the team.

Dr John Barton, from Loughborough’s Centre for Renewable Energy Systems Technology (CREST), is one of the authors of the report.  He said: “This report fills an important gap in the landscape of possible energy futures.

“The low carbon pathway we examine in this report is rare, possibly unique, in exploring such a high proportion of distributed generation, especially domestic and community combined heat and power (CHP). This technology is already in common use in several countries of continental Europe but has been largely neglected in the UK.”

Report co-author Áine O' Grady, Research Officer in the Sustainable Energy Research Team at the University of Bath added: “Significant environmental benefits, particular in terms of tackling climate change, could be delivered through such a distributed energy future. Nevertheless, electricity consumption would have to fall dramatically in order to reap such benefits, with households required to halve their current electricity consumption by 2050.” 

The report can be accessed here.


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