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The Perspective from Project LEO

Project LEO explores how growth in small-scale renewables, EVs, battery storage, and demand side response can be supported by a local, flexible, and responsive electricity grid.

Ending the United Kingdom’s contribution to global warming within the next 30 years is ambitious, bold, and necessary. As part of SSE plc, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) is a strong supporter of the United Kingdom adopting a 2050 net-zero emissions target and I welcomed the Committee on Climate Change’s report published in May that stated this target was advisable and achievable.

Setting targets is one thing, the question is how do we get there? In the United Kingdom, energy generation is making important strides forward with a third of its electricity now provided by renewables, compared with just 5% a decade ago.

However, more action is needed to decarbonize the transport and heat sectors. Heat currently contributes around a quarter of all U.K. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and in 2018, an estimated 33% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were from the transport sector.

Electrification of these sectors will be imperative to get to net-zero and the SSEN is acting to accommodate this significant shift and increasing demand on the distribution network. Low carbon technologies such as heat pumps, electric vehicles (EVs), and small-scale renewables present exciting opportunities to manage demand in a smarter way.

As peak demand on the network grows, new constraints would traditionally be addressed through network reinforcement. Now the flexible nature of new and low-carbon technologies can be used to manage peak demand.

For example, EV owners could be paid or otherwise encouraged to use their cars as batteries, to cease charging at certain points in favor of other periods of less intense demand on the electricity networks. A charged EV could also bid in to provide energy to the system in an open market, competing with the solar panels on neighbors’ roofs.

Community groups could also work together to use energy efficiency measures and access payments to reduce their own demand and the demand on the network at peak times. The SSEN is committed to neutrally facilitating these markets, and providing a level playing field for technologies and solutions to compete.

Delivering a smarter, low-carbon network that uses flexibility presents its own set of challenges and the SSEN is, alongside other network operators, working to understand and maximize the potential benefits of the change. In this process, distribution network operators (DNOs) are transitioning to distribution system operators (DSOs) and having a more active role in the delivery of our shared energy objectives.

In this process we are focusing on “learning by doing” and are seeking to ensure opportunities created in the transition to DSO are maximized to the benefit of the households, businesses, and communities we serve.

Project Local Energy Oxfordshire (LEO), which the SSEN leads, is the perfect example of this commitment in practice. Launched this year, the LEO seeks to answer some of the questions that the transition to DSO poses.

The LEO is one of the most wide-ranging, innovative, and holistic smart grid trials ever conducted in the United Kingdom. It explores how the growth in small-scale renewables, EVs, battery storage, and demand side response can be supported by a local, flexible, and responsive electricity grid, ensuring value for consumers, and opportunities for communities and market providers.

By creating an innovative ecosystem that financially rewards participants to enable the deployment of clean generation across a constrained network in the most cost-effective manner, we are testing today to better understand the electricity network of the future. We want to understand how the energy system will function in the future, how customers and communities engage with it, how markets can be created, and to better understand the most effective model in facilitating this change.

The LEO reflects the collaborative effort in delivering a smarter, flexible, and low-carbon future in an inclusive manner. The SSEN will manage the overall project and bring the core development of a DSO market integrator, supported by Ofgem, to underpin the localized system approach. The local energy market will be facilitated by four marketplace operators: Open Utility, Origami Energy, EDF Energy, and Nuvve.

The Oxfordshire community is represented by the Low Carbon Hub which has several local energy projects, over 4 MW of generation capacity, and deep interactions with local energy groups in Oxfordshire.

The local public sector (Oxfordshire County Council, Oxford City Council, University of Oxford, and Oxford Brookes University) bring flexible load in the form of their estates and smart energy projects from intelligent street lighting, vehicle-to-grid, and responsive heat networks. The LEO is further enhanced through global leading energy systems research capability brought by the University of Oxford consolidating multiple data sources and analysis tools to deliver a model for future local energy system mapping across all energy vectors.

Oxfordshire is the perfect sandbox for this project. It has an ambitious emissions reduction target to reduce GHG emissions by 50% by 2030, from a 2008 baseline of 57,000 kt CO2; by 2015 this had already been reduced by 22%. Oxfordshire also has high levels of constraint on the electricity network, and active and developed community energy partners, supported by the progressive approach of both local authorities.

The project will run for three years and is one of the most critical developments to date in the transition to DSO. The LEO’s findings will be shared collaboratively across industry, academia, and with policy makers and regulators, helping to plot the route to an energy system that supports net-zero.

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