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Sustainable futures

Power to the people

Imagine a future where communities across the UK generate enough renewable energy to meet their needs, with a surplus flowing into the national grid. A partnership in Nottingham between scientists and a sustainable housing development is showing the way.

Meeting the world’s growing energy needs while facing climate change is complex: harnessing new technologies to increase supplies of sustainable energy, while ensuring it is efficiently distributed across resilient systems that reduce waste and promote shared responsibility for our precious resources.

At Nottingham’s Trent Basin housing development, a £6m community energy project has been recognised as a model for UK cities to address this challenge.

Project SCENe (Sustainable Community Energy Networks) is a partnership between University of Nottingham scientists with technologists, housing developers, industry and the energy supply chain, the city council and residents.

Professor Mark Gillott, who leads the University’s research at Trent Basin, said: “Nottingham and all UK cities can become energy self-sufficient and community energy schemes like Project SCENe show how this can be accomplished.”

Project SCENe, funded by Innovate UK and the Energy Research Accelerator, is a case study in a July 2018 UK government consultation on the future for small-scale low-carbon generation. A second government report also highlighted how projects like SCENe foster a sense of community ownership of energy systems.

The Trent Basin development will eventually number 500 low-carbon homes. It includes Europe’s largest community battery allowing renewable energy – generated by solar panels located on homes and throughout the neighbourhood – to be stored on site, while still connected to the national grid. Another innovation is perhaps the UK’s only urban solar farm, occupying a brownfield site before being transplanted to the roofs of new homes as they are built.

Householders are invited to join the community energy company, with shared profits helping offset energy costs, and the prospect of eventually reducing bills.

Professor Gillott said: “What we have come up with is a model where energy systems and infrastructure for capture, storage and delivery of energy are fully embedded in homes and the community.”

The University’s partners in Project SCENe include SmartKlub, which supports the delivery of integrated community energy projects and runs the Trent Basin ESCO community energy company. Chief Executive Charles Bradshaw-Smith, said: “Project SCENe has enabled us to develop a subsidy-free business model with the potential to revolutionise sustainable housing development all over the UK.”

"Project SCENe has enabled us to developa subsidy-free business model with thepotential to revolutionise sustainablehousing development all over the UK."
Charles Bradshaw-Smith

Nick Ebbs, Chief Executive of housing developers Blueprint, added: “The project will enable us to evolve a community energy model that will both lower customers’ energy costs and reduce carbon.”

Project SCENe’s Dr Lewis Cameronis a sociologist whose expertise lies in how sustainable energy systems are influenced by social practice. At Trent Basin, the University has deployed cutting-edge smart monitoring systems to provide unprecedented data on energy use and consumer behaviours in the home.

A community hub showcases the inhouse energy monitoring kits freely available to residents, while interactive apps can be accessed via smart devices. In the home, Amazon’s voice-activated Echo Spots provide another innovative way residents can make informed choices about energy consumption and to do so in an interactive and effortless way.

This data informs the project team’s studies of attitudes towards energy consumption and how to most effectively influence these practices. Dr Cameron said: “We are generating data sets on consumer energy use that will influence the roll out of similar community energy schemes across the UK. And at Trent Basin, by involving residents and through interactive technologies, we are demonstrating how a socialised sense of responsibility can influence individual attitudes to energy use and sustainability.”

Much of this smart technology was developed by the Creative Energy Homes project at University Park, which pioneered the integration of renewable and energy efficient technologies into houses. Dr Rob Shipman, Senior Research Fellow for Project SCENe, said: “In this project we are making use of cutting-edge smart homes and internet of things technologies to better understand and predict energy use and behaviour. This will allow us to arm residents with the information they need to make informed choices and to help optimise operation of the community energy scheme for the benefit of all.”

The Tesla community battery is integral to Project SCENe’s vision of commercial viability. It can store 2.1MWh of energy, delivering 500kW of power – enough to power 167 electric kettles simultaneously for over four hours. The Trent Basin energy system will be connected to the national grid and, in addition to drawing renewable energy generated by the community, will also be able to buy and store electricity from the grid when it is cheapest, and redistribute to residents. Professor Gillott said: “This is a model that exemplifies optimised energy. It’s scalable and more resilient, and schemes such as ours will help provide the storage that the national grid needs to balance generation and supply.”

Mark Gillott

Mark Gillott is a Professor of Sustainable Building Design in the Department of Architecture and Built Environment and a member of the Buildings, Energy and Environment Research Group.

Lewis Cameron

Lewis Cameron is a Research Fellow with Project SCENe. He is a social scientist and energy researcher with expertise in the fields of sustainable consumption, sustainability and social transitions and sustainable development.

Rob Shipman

Rob Shipman is a Senior Research Fellow with a background in computer science and energy systems.

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