Cities consumed most of the world’s energy. As centres of culture, technology and people’s livelihoods they were one of the main drivers in pushing the planet beyond its capability to support human life.
A new approach to supplying energy was needed to address the needs of these concentrated urban areas. This required an in-depth understanding of how people use and generate energy to make them more sustainable.
Three themes that remained central to nearly every city in the UK were:
- digital technology
The challenge was to integrate them together to create a truly smart way to generate and store energy, using digital sensors that process data locally.
Licensed energy providers
As microgeneration from renewables grew in Newcastle and other UK cities, so did interest in councils becoming licensed energy providers. Councils began setting up their own energy supply business and undercutting the market.
A range of stakeholders benefitted from this, including:
- residents concerned about energy bills or fuel poverty
- businesses trying to get off the ground
- public services that needed more flexibility in how it used energy
There were concerns about rising energy prices and where your energy was coming from. This meant that localising energy supply made economic and environmental sense.
Energy from the local supplier could be more stable and affordable. Large energy suppliers' prices would fluctuate.
Acting as an energy supplier fulfilled the council’s objectives in helping people who couldn’t afford spikes in energy costs. It also provided them with the option to change the energy rates charged to businesses. This helped encourage companies to move to Newcastle, expanding the city’s economy.
The process for the council becoming an energy supplier required assistance from forward thinking industries. They realised the market potential of local authorities to supply energy to their residents.
Similar schemes for supplying local energy had been used long ago. For example, the heat network that distributed gas heating to residents at the Byker Estate was an early example of a community energy scheme. It continues to this day.
Newcastle City Council completed detailed modelling of different energy scenarios. This helped them to see which ones were the most sustainable and cost-effective for Newcastle.
To do this, they used information gathered from the Urban Observatory. They also processed ‘big data’ using computing power from the Cloud Computing Lab. They worked with researchers at the Digital Institute.
These new models allowed researchers to present new energy schemes at the Decision Theatre. This included looking into how different microgeneration technologies and conservation strategies could:
- impact energy usage
- supply and distribution
- find ways to reduce energy demand and improve building energy efficiency
The Urban Observatory identified the most energy inefficient areas of the city. Local businesses, residents and councillors used this to inform the campaigns they developed. They focused on conserving energy and cutting utility costs by installing insulation.
For the Council to provide heat, water and electricity to the city it required cooperation with industries that had statutory responsibilities. The Council’s smart energy master plan for the city would have trouble getting off the ground if they didn't collaborate.
This is where innovative companies, that cut across the public and private sectors, played an important role. Their customers were the partners needed for Newcastle to transform into a smart city that could supply its own energy.
The city has its own smart micro-grid yet some communities in Newcastle decided they wanted their own local micro-grids too. Digital governance schemes allowed neighbourhoods to have a say in whether they want to invest in community energy storage systems. These would store renewable energy generated by local residents.
These community energy schemes worked well for areas of the city that have the most residents, who can't be without power for any length of time without it having a severe impact on their health.
Newcastle’s smart grid was essential in bringing online new fleets of electric vehicles. These could not only be charged through the city’s energy network via charging stations, but supply energy to it as well.
There are number of ways you can get involved in the project, including designing a ‘community energy scheme’ in Decision Theatre. This involves looking at saving energy and reducing bills through community organisation and digital technology. You can also:
- discover the benefits of local micro-grids and district heating and power generation by visiting Science Central
- test energy storage systems for residential, commercial and local applications using the energy storage test bed
- use information provided by the Urban Observatory to find ways to reduce energy costs for communities
For further information contact us.
All illustrations copyright 2015 Katie Chappell.