Traditional consumers are more active than ever before in generating their own energy as renewables have become more economically viable. This new role in the generation mix creates the need for decentralised energy solutions. We see the emergence of this with small peer-to-peer community networks already active, but it has much further to go.
Smart technology on a distributed network
Utilities have caught up with capturing consumption data more effectively with the introduction of smart meters, creating a clearer view of demand for scheduling transmission. Their next challenge will be capturing this new off-grid generation supply data to have the full picture.
Solutions to this are already underway with current DNOs (Distribution Network Operators) that flow electricity one-way adapting to become DSOs (Distribution System Operators) that can link and manage differing sources of generation and send these in the most cost effective way to the consumer.
An example of this in the UK is North West's Customer Load Active System Services (CLASS) system which can increase the capacity of the electricity network by altering voltage and positioning of its primary transformers according to multiple generation data sources.
Smart contracts on a distributed ledger
A cost effective way to operate, transact, regulate and share information on this Network of the future would be the use of a secure platform using distributed ledger technology. The platform could act as a source of information as well as a means to transact; satisfying the producer and consumer needs.
However, in order for it to reap the most benefits it would need collaboration with all related stakeholders. This would mean buy in from all market participants and regulators to drive the standard format and template samples to be used.
This technology would be tailorable for a changing demand network eg. electrified transport. Looking further still, it would drive increased transparency and efficiency in the power market and that benefits all stakeholders.
While consumers’ enthusiasm for community energy is growing, a lack of in-depth technology and business knowledge has held some schemes back. Their economic ambitions cannot be achieved without existing industry knowledge and dedicated resource. This need is causing new roles to be created. Broadly speaking, we see three possible models utilities can employ to help them adapt to the rise of community energy: 1. Collaborative community partner – participating as a technical observer and sounding board 2. Community service provider – consulting to communities and providing ecosystem solutions that meet their unique energy needs 3. Community energy platform provider – acting as a market-maker, utilities can develop and package a suite of solutions for communities designed to enable communities’ active participation in energy distribution