Current policy and regulatory frameworks are ill-equipped to manage the exchange of electricity between the grid, mobility requirements and the provision of heat, says Sam Mackilligin. But he has a solution
With the recent launch of the Clean Growth Strategy, low carbon heating is now high on the agenda for discussions around the future of energy policy in the UK.
Alongside other recent announcements from Ofgem and the Committee on Climate Change, it has raised a debate on whether electric heating is the likely successor to gas boilers, and also whether district heating will remain the appropriate approach for major new housing schemes and dense urban areas.
Based on projected emissions data and current calculation methodologies, systems using electricity to deliver heat will offer increasing carbon savings over time while savings from heat networks served by combined heat and power plants will decline. This is likely to stimulate an uptake in electrical heating systems, such as heat pump technology, in both individual dwellings and heat networks.
With this happening at a time when the move toward electric mobility is accelerating, the stresses on power networks are only likely to increase. This exposes the shortcomings of current policy and regulatory frameworks to manage the exchange of electricity between the electric grid, mobility requirements and the provision of heat.
The needs of diurnal load variations to manage the requirements of mobility and the need to manage inter-seasonal variations in heat demand will be no easy feat. The core roles that demand management and storage will not be straightforward under the current market regulation where the generator can have no direct role in or interest in balancing the system, responding to the needs of the consumer or indeed helping them to use power when it is most available.
There are places where a smart approach to the whole energy system will start to be delivered to some extent, where the system can be balanced across heat, power and mobility. Virtual power plants offer the prospect of balancing across a portfolio of generation, storage and demand, but always independent of the network. This is what makes them virtual.
Where large diversified estates are being operated or developed by a developer, whether from the public sector; such as a local authority or university, or the private sector, then the conditions exist to combine a whole range of factors.
These include generation, demand management, smart grids and data to run electric heating, mobility traditional electric loads with lower total cost and a minimised impact on grid infrastructure.
When the public sector has the opportunity to shape the delivery of smart infrastructure it is usually constrained by the difficulty in delivering such a vision through public procurement processes.
One initiative that is set to open opportunities for a step change in public sector performance is CLEAR Futures, a long-term partnership between Eastbourne Borough Council, Lewes District Council, AECOM and Robertson Group. It has been established to identify, develop and deliver an innovative range of projects and services necessary to meet the future challenges of energy, along with the related sectors of transport, food and long-term sustainability.
These projects will give rise to significant employment and training opportunities for local people and businesses, including professional services and trades.
CLEAR Futures is open to all UK local authorities, NHS bodies, educational establishments, police, fire & rescue, central government authorities, national parks, local enterprise partnerships, registered social landlords, social enterprises in culture and leisure, third sector, charities, hospices and regulated utilities.
The partnership is a single portal efficient delivery entity which will allow participants to do things faster, better and cheaper. By integrating services across the public and private sector it can make positive movements towards a cleaner, more sustainable future.
The transition to a smarter power grid able to meet the needs of electric heat and mobility won't happen overnight but the rewards are high. My hope is that in the future energy will no longer be a burden or threat to our wellbeing.
With initiatives such as CLEAR Futures emerging, I believe we will have a more enjoyable and balanced environment, a stronger and more prosperous local economy and communities will be more self-sustaining.
Sam Mackilligin is Regional Director at AECOM, which designs, builds, finances and operates infrastructure assets for governments, businesses and organizations in more than 150 countries. www.aecom.com