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BLOG: Tower Power could be the future for community energy

Nick Sharpe

Director of Communications

Posted on 22/01/2018 by Nick Sharpe

An innovative Edinburgh project is bringing the cost-saving benefits of renewables and advanced energy management hardware to some of Scotland's poorest homes. We'll hear more about these issues at our Low-Carbon Cities Conference on February 20, but ahead of that this blog looks at the Tower Power scheme in more detail.

 

Any shopper knows bulk buying saves money.

At ASDA, four quilted toilet rolls cost £1.90, or 47.5p per roll

But sixteen of the same toilet rolls cost £5.50 – only 34.4p per roll, or a 38% saving.

The same principles apply across the economy and, of course, to energy.

And while it’s traditionally been large aggregators who’ve reaped the benefits of bulk-buying electrons, communities are now making waves in the same space.

The Scottish Government-funded Tower Power project, which blends the benefits of solar PV with innovative controls, is one example – but it’s going further than most.

Community Energy Scotland Development Officer Andy Maybury, who will speak at Scottish Renewables’ Low-Carbon Cities Conference in Edinburgh on February 20, explains:

“Tower Power is investigating how aggregating the consumption of many customers – say in a block of flats – could improve the price of energy for the customers.

“We’re also using technology and education to shift when householders consume electricity to times when it’s cheaper, which also creates cost savings.

“Each home gets sight of their own [near-real-time] consumption data as well as the aggregated community consumption and the generation. A simple indicator shows whether this is a good time to use more electricity (because surplus generation is available or it is cheaper) or whether loads should be switched off until later.”

Aggregation and load shifting have been around for years (think Economy 7).

But Tower Power’s unique twist is how it’s enabling some of Scotland’s poorest households, in Dumbiedykes, Edinburgh, to grasp the opportunity presented by renewable generation.

Simply put, those on pre-payment meters, who often pay the highest energy costs, can benefit from off-site renewable generation in the same way as those who’ve been able to invest in their own renewable generation at home.

Andy again:

Tower Power is looking for ways to bring the benefits of renewable energy generation and smart electricity systems to those who are usually disenfranchised.

“The aim is for pre-payment customers to share the output from community renewable generation and benefit in the same way that owners of PV can use their own generated electricity without importing so much from the grid.”

“The community service company would be linked to nearby community generators through a Virtual Private Wire PPA type of arrangement that allows the generation and consumption to be netted off before settlement.”

Of course, changing the way consumers pay for power hasn’t been easy.

The project, which launched in July 2015, has faced challenges with clunky tech, as well as communications systems with poor coverage.

Today, advanced meters and robust internet connections are doing the job of providing consumption data where it’s needed.

In energy innovation, overcoming hurdles is part of the day job.

And when it all runs right, the opportunity is vast.

Community Energy Scotland’s Andy says:

“Once proven, the system can be rolled out to communities using pre-payment meters across the country. That’s tens of thousands of households who are paying too much for their power and could benefit from cheaper, greener electricity.

“We’ll also be able to link the system to community generators, potentially providing them with a better market for their power and spreading the benefits of this system even further.”

Andy will be speaking about Tower Power in more detail in the Energy in Buildings session at Scottish Renewables’ Low-Carbon Cities Conference in Edinburgh on February 20.

Also speaking are:

  • Councillor John Alexander, Leader of Dundee City Council and Chair of Scottish Cities Alliance, who’ll set out a low-carbon vision for Scotland’s cities and ask what key steps must be taken to ensure our urban areas develop with renewable and low-carbon energy at their heart.
  • Humza Yousaf MSP, Minister for Transport and the Islands, who’ll give the conference’s keynote address.
  • Dickon Posnett, Director of Corporate Affairs at Argent Energy and Bill Ireland, Chief Executive of Logan Energy, who’ll discuss whether biofuels or hydrogen – or both – are the future for heavy road transport.

Our cities are changing as fast as our energy system, and no-one knows for sure what the future holds.

One thing is certain, however: warmer homes, cheaper bills and a smaller carbon footprint are results we can all be proud of.

​Pic: Kim Traynor / Wikimedia Commons