EDF has been examining the potential for a smart local flexible energy market as part of its Urban Energy Club.
Having recently installed a 10kW/20kWh battery system connected to the pre-existing 37kWh solar PV system on the Elmore House block of flats in Brixton, London, the trial has been offering simulated flexibility services with UK Power Networks.
It follows on from the previous Project CommUNITY trial, which also took place at Elmore House and looked at peer-to-peer trading.
Current± caught up with Maria Brucoli, smart energy systems manager at EDF, to talk about the learnings of the trial and the measures needed to help scale it up.
What are EDF’s expectations in running a trial like the Urban Energy Club?
The Urban Energy Club project actually started as the CommUNITY project. It’s interesting because it really shows our commitment to explore various aspects around the local energy markets. In the first phase of CommUNITY – which ended in April 2021 – we looked at trialing a local energy market based on peer-to-peer transactions between residential customers. The main scope of that was really to explore methods and ways to enable self consumption of renewable generation on the local level, in particular in our urban areas, and in particular in a block of flats.
There are various reasons behind doing such a thing. One of the possible future scenarios is that you will have more and more of these local energy markets, and the idea is to explore how these very grassroot energy movements can become active players in flexibility offerings. Obviously there is not a lot of space in urban areas, but you can imagine as there are more and more of these and you start aggregating them, there is an impact. That was the first thing UK Power Networks wanted to explore with us.
Then there is the social aspect, which is very important and is trying to investigate how residential customers can become active players in the flexibility arena, and in particular, support the network.
What have your learnings been so far for both the Urban Energy Club and Project CommUNITY?
Project CommUNITY ran for 15 months, and then in February we had the flexibility events, as we call them with UK Power Networks. What we found out is that the technology side of it works, and we found out that we were able to integrate the battery to the local energy market and integrate flexibility windows into our own market algorithms.
In general my main learning – not just from the Urban Energy Club but CommUNITY too – is that we had challenges when onboarding costumers and really recruiting them. We were hit by COVID-19; we would have hoped to have quite a lot of participation, we were planning lots of engaging events to really get people onboard, but we were very limited in doing that.
I think the lessons learned for me is that the technology’s there but scaling up and really getting a lot of people subscribing to this type of service might still not be as easy as we would think.
Maybe another thing was around some of the rules to onboard customers. Sale of electricity – quite rightly – is a very regulated business, which poses a little bit of challenge when you introduce a new scheme. We were lucky because we always had the support Ofgem through the sandbox. That’s really important for us.
What are the challenges to scaling up a scheme like this?
This is an important step for EDF to help Britain achieve net zero. Obviously, it’s very small scale but we want to scale it up. We recognise that it’s important to investigate these models as an enabler of a cleaner and low carbon emission future to tackle climate change.
These two projects are part of our bigger picture rather than being isolated, one off R&D.
Ultimately, if you plan to roll this out on a very large scale and are also looking at recovering at least to some of the implementation costs, as a business the margin gets smaller and smaller, so there has to be some kind of incentive or some kind of mechanism that can support more dispatch over local energy market self consumption initiatives.
How much focus is EDF giving to the development of flexibility services and technologies?
It’s one of the key points for EDF Energy and the EDF Group. Let’s focus on EDF Energy – so, the group here in the UK has many activities around flexibility. Obviously, we have Pivot Power and we have the larger assets, so Pivot Power has quite a large pipeline of large scale projects in key locations across the nation, and my group supports them on the modeling of these assets.
There is this aspect of EDF Energy here in the UK around largest assets and then we have the other aspect which is more of the markets and this is the work that EDF Energy – and in particular Powershift, our aggregation platform – does. Rather than owning, we actually aggregate customers’ assets.