Could you own your own energy?


Renewable energy is becoming more commonplace in the homes of UK residents. From solar powered fairy lights in your garden, to a solar panel on your campervan, or even a large-scale installation of panels on your roof, we are harnessing solar energy like never before. These individual efforts signal the potential for change in terms of the ways we power our homes. Could this be the beginning of the end for the big energy providers and the start of a local community grid? It’s time to investigate the power of microgrids in the UK.

What is a microgrid?

Simply put, a microgrid is a smaller, isolated version of the main electrical grid that powers our country. Rather than relying on big businesses to handle our electrical needs, the increasing popularity of solar technology means that we could be responsible for our community’s power. For example, a block of flats fitted with solar panels could be connected to other nearby homes or a school. The power generated by these flats would then be distributed amongst these connected properties, thus creating a microgrid. Solar is the most common type of renewable energy powering microgrids however other renewable energy sources are sometimes used.

Advantages of microgrids

  • Currently, microgrids are being created via renewable energy sources. Therefore, as more of these grids are implemented, the less reliant on fossil fuels we will become.

  • Microgrids have the potential to create revenue opportunities. The Brooklyn Microgrid Project, for example, is in the process of creating an app which will allow people to buy and sell the renewable energy that they have generated.

  • One of the devastating effects of the climate crisis is the extreme weather conditions we have been experiencing. During storms across the world, vast areas have lost power. When using a large central grid we are putting all of our eggs in one basket – if that grid does down then everyone loses power. However, if we were to generate our power via multiple microgrids, a storm would need to take out multiple grids to affect such a large amount of people. We should also consider that each grid will have its own team working to maintain its power so the likelihood of this happening is smaller and the chances of a speedy recovery are higher.

Vauxhall Energy, London

Vauxhall Energy is a project created by local residents and not-for-profit organisation, Repowering London. The project has also been supported by Lambeth Council and ENGIE.

In 2018, Vauxhall Energy announced its plan to install solar panels on the roofs of five buildings in Vauxhall Gardens estate. These panels are community owned and used to power the communal areas in the building. The project is now fully funded, but was originally open to investment from anyone, and now pays these investors a small return. According to Repowering London ‘The project will generate 1059 MWh of clean renewable electricity’ over the following 20 years since its implementation - ‘24 tonnes of CO2 per annum will be saved from entering the atmosphere - that is 488 tonnes over the 20-year life of the project.

For more information, click here.

Owen Square Community Energy, Bristol

Owen Square Community Energy cooperative is a member-based local energy supply company jointly operated by Easton Community Centre, local energy group Easton Energy Group and Bristol-based microgrid developer Clean Energy Prospector (CEPRO).

For the last two years, a small, commercial microgrid has been providing heat for Easton Community Centre’s main building and annex in Bristol. The CHOICES project has combined ground and air source heat pumps to decrease reliance on ‘the gas grid which covers around 80% of UK buildings’.

So, in the winter months, ground source heat pumps harness heat from the ground which is then used to raise the temperatures in commercial buildings and houses. The efficiency of these pumps is improved in the hotter summer months by capturing heat from the air and storing it underground in the borehole arrays. The CHOICES project achieves this by using an air-source heat capture system that is powered by PV generated electricity.

The team behind this project now plan to roll out this low carbon heating system across homes in the local area. Their current aim is to convert a minimum of 100 of the homes currently connected to a substation in Owen Square park in Bristol. A funded pay-as-you-go model will be used however, before this plan can be put into action, data from OpenLV will need to be analysed in order to ensure that supply will meet demand and funding must be acquired.

To find out more information about this second phase of the project, click here.

The Cornwall Local Energy Market, Cornwall

The Cornwall Local Energy Market is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund under the European Structural and Investment Funds Programme 2014-2020.

In May 2019, energy and services company Centrica, finished installing smart batteries, monitoring equipment and solar panels within 100 residential properties. Not only will participants save money on their bills and provide vital support in the battle to promote renewable technologies, but they will make money too. Centrica have been developing a cloud-based platform which will allow homeowners to sell any excess energy created by these renewable technologies to the local network. Currently, Western Power Distribution (WPD) uses this platform to bid for excess energy, while participants make offers against these bids. The development of platforms such as this is vital to the growth of microgrids across the country. While this project allows participants to sell excess energy back to the local distribution network officer, just imagine its potential for selling to other homes, local business, schools and many other buildings. This is the first step to giving communities complete control over their power, a power that is renewable.

For more information about this project, click here.

The government must act

These three projects highlight different ways in which microgrids are changing the UK’s energy sector. Microgrids are, quite literally, giving the power back to homeowners by allowing them to become real players in this market. These projects are evidence that renewable energy is both a financially viable way to power our homes and that there is demand for this technology from the British public. So, we must take the knowledge gained from these small-scale efforts and put pressure on our government to make large-scale change. If we want to continue living on this planet we must use renewable energy across the country – microgrids could be the way to do that.