Is decentralized generation a part of the wider energy industry – or does it belong to its host energy users? Both, perhaps.

Cogeneration plants have long suffered from belonging fully to neither the energy supply industry or the consumer whose site they supply. Cogen and other decentralized energy generators often occupy an uneasy middle ground – sometimes operated by the host facility or building; in other cases by a utility-connected third party.
Decentralized energy producers
Control of energy generation is in many instances shifting out of the hands of large utilities and taking residence in those of the host facility. The makers of a BBC ‘magazine-style’ TV programme on farming and the countryside that I saw the other day put ground-mounted solar arrays, modestly-sized wind turbines and even electricity storage modules firmly in the hands of farmers and landowners.

Savvy UK farmers took to installing small wind turbines a long time ago; larger PV installations have followed and these now often work alongside energy storage plant – to maximise the on-site use of the energy generated at the farm. All reducing the amount of power taken from the national electricity grid. DE installers like working with farmers, said the presenter, as farmers like to save money by owning their own generation assets; they often also have room to build on.

Power generation infrastructure is increasingly held by its users: farmers, industry, city authorities, householders and building operators. Swansea University, also in the UK, is working with industrial partners to convert buildings from passive structures into active ones capable of generating, storing and releasing their own solar energy – both heat and electricity – at the point of use and when required.

Its ‘turning buildings into power stations’ project is already operating one building that combines an integrated solar roof and battery storage with solar heat collection on south-facing walls. It generates more energy than it uses.

A second building has been fitted with a full-scale inter-seasonal heat storage system. The south facing wall and part of the roof are clad in a solar thermal collector. Some 30% of the heat generated by the collector is used directly in the building and the remainder goes into a heat storage system.

The building was disconnected from its gas supply three years ago and is now heated only by solar energy.

The trend towards decentralized power and heat production is turning consumers into generators.