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Support more local energy trials, government urged

Keele's SEND Project will deliver numerous benefits to the university. Image: Siemens.

Keele's SEND Project will deliver numerous benefits to the university. Image: Siemens.

The government has been urged to throw its weight behind more trials of local energy technologies, specifically those taking place on university campuses.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has made the call within a new report, where it said that university campuses in the UK were ideal testbeds for emerging energy technologies thanks to their academic expertise and extensive land and building ownership.

The report, dubbed Exploring the Evolutions of Low-Carbon Local Energy, has implored the government to incentivise more trials, suggesting they could both encourage new innovations and help universities meet decarbonisation targets.

It argues that these could include single energy technology projects such as solar farms, to more comprehensive, whole system solutions that incorporate bundled or co-located technologies and energy management systems.

Matt Rooney, engineering policy adviser at IMechE, said that local energy is evolving fast in the UK, adding that campuses offered “unique environments” for trialling new technologies owing to the high levels of academic and technical expertise most universities had on site.

“Universities also have environmentally conscious student bodies who care deeply about climate change and will be enthusiastic to trial innovative technologies and test new approaches,” he said.

The report was formulated via the institution’s Renewable Power Committee and made a number of other recommendations for the government, including giving the implementation of the small-scale renewables Smart Export Guarantee priority status.

This would entail closely monitoring the outcomes of its initial launch – the policy comes into full effect from 1 January 2020 – to ensure developers and customers are fairly rewarded.

IMechE is also seeking a review of the current planning system to ensure local energy projects aren’t being restricted by unnecessary planning regulations, and is also calling on it and other, similar organisations to go further in creating an evidence base for the efficacy of local energy projects.

A number of local energy or peer-to-peer trading network trials are currently taking place across the UK, aiming to demonstrate how such projects can bolster low carbon energy solutions while simultaneously delivering numerous benefits to consumers.

Centrica’s Local Energy Marketplace trial in Cornwall, formally launched earlier this year, connects more than 200 homes and businesses in the county using solar, storage and blockchain technologies, while Hitachi is also working on a major local energy project on the Isles of Scilly.

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