Oxfordshire to trial £40m local smart grid project

solar panels

Oxfordshire will receive £40 million of funding for a project to trial a new smart local energy system – or ‘smart grid’.

The system will explore how the growth in local renewables, electric vehicles, battery storage, and demand side response can be supported and help in reducing charges to consumers.

An industry-first, Project LEO (Local Energy Oxfordshire) comes on top of the £41 million Energy Superhub Oxford (ESO) project, also announced this week. Project LEO will develop a new model for the way in which local energy systems in Oxfordshire are managed and measured.

The system will balance local demand with local supply in a real-world environment and will help to test markets, inform investment models and, assess the benefits of flexibility to the energy system.

The project will demonstrate the potential for individuals and communities to become active participants in the energy systems of the future. Project LEO will enable Oxfordshire based social enterprise, the Low Carbon Hub, to grow its existing portfolio of 40+ energy projects bringing another £16 million of community energy projects to the County.

By creating opportunities for local communities to trade the energy they generate, use and store at a local level, project LEO will show the potential for individuals, businesses and communities to collaborate in the creation of an energy system that's good for people and the planet. 

The project has been awarded £13.8m from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and will be supported by £26m of private funding from the project partners.  It will be led by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) in partnership with Oxford City Council, University of Oxford, EDF Energy, Oxford Brookes University, Oxfordshire County Council, Nuvve, Low Carbon Hub, Open Utility and Origami Energy.

The recent 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report states that we have just 12 years to act on climate change if global temperature rises are to be kept within the recommended 1.5 degrees Celsius. Oxford City Council has joined other councils across the world in declaring a climate emergency.

Oxford City Council is a member of Low Carbon Oxford, a network of 40 public/private organisations that aims to reduce citywide emissions by 40% of 2005 levels by 2020. To meet these targets, 58% of electricity demand in Oxfordshire must be generated from renewable resources. Project LEO will support Oxfordshire on its journey to meet this target. 

Oxfordshire County Council also last month outlined the work that it was doing to tackle carbon emissions which includes ‘solar schools’, energy saving street lighting and waste reduction. Carbon targets will also be reviewed in line with the latest scientific evidence from the International Panel on Climate Change.

The street-lighting project alone is projected to reduce Oxfordshire County Council’s greenhouse emissions from this source by 70%. The 20 Oxfordshire County Council maintained Solar Schools generate electricity to the equivalent needed to power 150 households, saving over 260 tonnes of carbon per year.

Project LEO will bring together significant local, academic and industry expertise, with the project partners working closely with stakeholders in the county, including the district councils.

The partner’s roles in the project are:

  • Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks will establish a neutral market facilitation platform demonstrating data exchange and the purchase of flexibility services to actively balance the network mitigating against local constraints.
  • Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council will provide key infrastructure and local investment projects, including intelligent street lighting, EV infrastructure and responsive heat networks.
  • Leading social enterprise, the Low Carbon Hub, will manage and develop a portfolio of local energy generation and demand projects, informing investment models;
  • Leading academics from the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University, will collect and analyse data sources to deliver a model for future local energy ‘whole system’ mapping and planning; and
  • Marketplace Operators Origami, Piclo, and Nuvve will pilot new business models, via innovative market platforms, to deliver local energy trading, flexibility and aggregation;
  • Energy supplier, EDF, will bring customer focused innovations and energy services to more than 5 million customers;

Councillor Tom Hayes, Board Member for A Cleaner and Greener Environment, Oxford City Council, said: “We're thrilled to see £40 million for Oxfordshire to take back control of energy. Project LEO will return power to the people, so that we can generate clean energy for our own neighbourhoods. By creating opportunities for communities to trade the energy they generate, use, and store at a local level, we hope that Project LEO will empower people, companies, and local areas to build an energy system that works for people and planet.”

Minister Claire Perry, Energy and Clean Growth, said: “We are at the start of a green revolution as we move to more digital, data-driven smart systems that will bring us cleaner and cheaper energy. These projects, backed by government funding, are set to spark a transformation and change the way we interact with energy for the better as part of our modern Industrial Strategy.

“We’re excited to see how these businesses and project partners reveal how innovative tech, such as energy storage, heat networks and electric vehicles, can set us on the path to a smarter energy future. This is tomorrow’s world, today.” 

Dr Barbara Hammond MBE, CEO, Low Carbon Hub, said:  "Project LEO provides a brilliant opportunity for us to play a leading role in developing the energy system of the future. One that is sustainable for our planet, will ensure the lights stay on when needed and, crucially, is beneficial for our communities.  

“Our work over the past eight years has demonstrated our commitment to building renewable energy projects across Oxfordshire with schools, businesses and communities and we’re so excited for this project to take that work to the next level working with excellent project partners who are expert in their fields. 

“Project LEO will enable us to further grow community-owned renewable energy in Oxfordshire, provide new investment opportunities for local people, and allow our communities to have more say in their energy choices. 

“The Low Carbon Hub is out to prove we can meet our energy needs in a way that’s good for people and good for the planet and this project will be big step in that journey" 

Llewellyn Morgan, Head of Innovation, Oxfordshire County Council said: “This is really exciting news and will build on the county council’s long-running work to enable cleaner technology to thrive in Oxfordshire.

“LEO will create a new energy ecosystem for Oxfordshire that we expect to benefits everyone in the next ten years.

“Oxfordshire is leading the way in the UK by exploring how local renewables, electric vehicles, battery storage and encouraging people to shift their energy use can be supported by a local, flexible, and responsive electricity grid to ensure value for consumers and opportunities for communities and market providers.”

Professor Gupta, Principal Investigator for the initiative, Oxford Brookes University: “We are very excited to be part of this ground-breaking project on smart local energy systems in Oxfordshire. Project LEO will usher in new and radical thinking on developing value streams from distributed energy resources using local flexibility markets.

LEO builds strongly on our recent award-winning research (project ERIC) that demonstrated how distributed generation and smart home batteries, can be managed to reduce peak grid load and increase self-consumption of local generated electricity.

We are really pleased to be collaborating with leading experts to help inform the energy system of the future”.

Principal Investigator Professor Malcolm McCulloch, founder of the Energy and Power Group, University of Oxford, said, “We are excited that this revolutionary project is happening in the UK. It will lead the world in developing new value streams from local energy assets using local markets. This project will transform new thinking in the future of energy systems to a reality and will crystallise large scale investment. This will enable a significant deployment of clean energy resources in Oxfordshire and enable end users to have a lower cost, secure energy supply.”


This article first appeared on the website of Oxford City Council on 3rd April 2019.