Burohappold event on energy islands

Our latest event fell during Community Energy Fortnight and what a happy coincidence that it fitted this theme. Our event, kindly hosted by BuroHappold Engineering, focussed on the challenges facing energy island systems and we had 3 excellent speakers who approached this subject from completely different perspectives.

Gavin Thompson, Director of Energy at BuroHappold, took us through a number of studies which the BuroHappold energy team are working on, specialising in low carbon heat and city ecosystems. A focus of their work recently has been the concept of Energy Islands, giving the example of a ‘what if’ scenario where Cornwall was isolated from the national electricity grid. Cornwall is the 2nd poorest economy in the UK, has no large scale power plants however is very renewable rich but unable to utilise this currently due to grid constraints.  The project looked at how to capture Cornwall’s wealth and increase its economic performance through its energy system. BuroHappold approached this challenge through designing some bespoke modelling tools and through active stakeholder engagement. One of the tools they used to engage the Cornish stakeholders was a game enabling stakeholders to explore different societal and investment decisions in order to meet Cornwall’s energy demand. We were fortunate to be allowed to have a play with this ourselves, a common challenge was that everyone had a strong view on the solution and balancing this is impossible!

Our second speaker, Agamemnon Otero is CEO of Repowering London. Repowering is a cooperative which aims to set up further cooperatives which support social wellbeing through renewable energy. Setting up a cooperative requires technical, financial, legal and project management expertise and Repowering can help provide this to ensure success. Agamemnon thinks of London like an energy island in a different way, he felt that considering London has many of the brains, power and finance in this sector, very little has been achieved.  Repowering London’s flagship project, Brixton solar energy community scheme, is a fantastic example of what can be achieved and the benefits it can bring to local people. It was set up in a deprived social housing estate and allows local people to get involved in a variety of ways including investing directly in the project and for young people, attending a paid internship to learn about the technical and financial elements of the project. Working directly with the whole community from the start and keeping them involved is their key to success. The team at Repowering speak over 11 languages which highlights their commitment to engaging with these isolated communities in London.  Their next project is in collaboration with TFL and looks at energy gardens. You can find out more at: energygarden.org.uk

Our final speaker Chris Kimmett from OpenEnergi bought us back to our GB energy system and helpfully reminded us that we live on a physical energy island and therefore many of the same challenges exist just on a slightly different scale. We face challenges in balancing our demand and supply t not just in the long term but to manage real time frequency changes due to more intermittent generation sources. With wholesale prices likely to rise in the future, more machines being connected to the internet and battery prices coming down he believe the future is in smart battery control and demand response. For example supermarkets, water utilities and universities can all make changes without affecting their end users, for example temporarily reducing power to fridges. These assets can be effectively be used as batteries to help balance the grid. I wonder what the potential for these technologies are in Cornwall?

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