Distributed energy resources are essential to the all-electric, net-zero transition. While they are becoming more common, their uptake brings both opportunities and challenges for developers, residents, occupiers, and the wider energy system.
This is where smart grids come in, connecting distributed technologies into a network that can provide flexibility to the ever-evolving energy network in the UK, while also increasing cost savings for developers, residents, and occupiers.
Current± caught up with Dan Nicholls, MD of SNRG to discuss grid constraints, the transition to net zero, and taking a holistic approach.
Could you tell me where the idea for SNRG came from?
In 2018 we recognised two things:
- Energy will increasingly get pushed to the ‘edge’ as generation and storage becomes more distributed – and while a digital approach is key, a local approach will become increasingly important;
- Electrification would increase the cost and complexity to develop new Residential and Industrial & Commercial projects, and without a long-term approach to solving these problems, suboptimal outcomes were likely.
Our goal was to create a next generation infrastructure company that could design, fund, develop, operate and optimise smarter grid connections empowered by ‘place based’ energy systems (smart grids) that maximise the consumption of locally generated renewable electricity.
When we talk about smart grid technologies, what exactly do we mean?
We design a single point of connection to the grid, then behind that place as much renewable generation as possible, a central battery and demand response control for all large loads, such as electric vehicle charging, space and water heating.
We fund the solar, the onsite network and the battery to make it all happen.
We operate by analysing and predicting intermittent variables such as weather, power generation and load, then create an optimisation strategy that aims to achieve the following:
- Capital deployment requirements (often with a corresponding embodied CO2 reduction)
- CO2 emissions
- Peak demand
- Electricity costs
- Asset availability
Together, that’s what we call a smart grid.
How much of a challenge are grid constraints to the rollout of clean energy technologies?
It is fast becoming the biggest challenge to delivering new building schemes across the UK and we are working on multiple projects that have limited import and export capacity.
More broadly, it is a challenge for development as a whole. Grid connection has always been an issue and a frequent point of delay for domestic and non-domestic development. Recently West London councils have highlighted the development challenge caused by the predicted lack of capacity. The era of uncontrolled, unsophisticated renewable energy projects is coming to an end. We’re entering an era where intelligently controlled ‘place based’ energy infrastructure will be essential, not just to the rollout of renewables, but development in general.
Is it a significant concern for the transition to net zero?
At present, developers are forced to oversize networks and grid connections to manage variable renewable generation. This extra cost and delivery time for more capacity often means developers can’t include renewables in their projects. Moving forward the government is proposing that this extra cost will be socialised and added to consumers’ energy bills.
In a new build context SmartGrids make the most sense as they reduce the need for network reinforcement in the first place and seek to maximise consumption of locally generated renewable energy which saves occupants money and is less carbon intensive.
How far can smart grid technologies solve this challenge?
A smart grid is about doing more with less, by being intelligently organised. We can reduce the power requirements by spreading the demand over time, deconflicting heavy consumption, and even storing a buffer ahead of time.
When EV chargers, heat pumps, batteries and renewable generation are controlled and orchestrated together, there are benefits for the developer in upfront cost savings, benefits for the occupant in bill savings, benefits for the planet with carbon savings and benefits for the wider grid by providing various grid services.
How important is it that there is a holistic approach to this?
Individual renewable assets are a 2010s phenomenon. The future is all about multiple technologies per site. Once you have multiple technologies, the obvious next step is to make them work together, not just with each other, but with the existing loads too.
But we are also sidestepping a massive threat. A few years ago, installing solar or an EV charger at your property was not a problem. The issue for the 2020s is what happens when everyone has a heat-pump, and we often hear that the grid can’t cope with this increased demand, and intermittent supply from renewables. A smart grid can control demand to manage this.
Actually, a smart grid can even bring demand forward, increasing consumption when renewables are plentiful on the national grid, and wholesale prices at their lowest.
The holistic approach has to consider all these opportunities to squeeze the most benefit from the assets. At the end of the day, this is about maximising the deployment of renewables and making electric heat and transport viable, without adding further cost pressures upfront.
That’s how we reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
What’s next for SNRG?
We’re laser focused on adding value and delivering for our key clients, and projects like Longbridge West for St Modwen Homes.
Our partnership approach means we work across our clients’ pipelines, ensuring we deliver on their financial and ESG KPI’s. We’ve doubled the size of our team this year and will do the same again in the next 12 months. This will enable us to service more clients with more products and services, that will unlock more sites, cost savings and carbon reduction.
We’ll be announcing new partners, projects, hires and acquisitions soon.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
If you are an incredible talent and want to work on the most integrated and interesting energy product in the market, get in touch.