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The shape of things to come: building a low-carbon electricity network

Field trials are important in enabling the roll-out of green technologies and this has been reinforced by the results of Low-carbon London, a project which incorporates a range of trials to paint a picture of how a low-carbon electricity network might shape up in the capital and beyond.

There is not one, but 16 final reports to look though, and the issues covered were as comprehensive as you might expect for an undertaking of such importance: managing demand and timing home energy use for times of peak renewable generation, to optimum use of smart meter information, to coping with commuters charging their electric vehicles when they get home.

Some headline results of the trials include a suggestion that smart technologies will be easier used in managing demand from electric cars than heat pumps, the realisation that electric car recharging spikes in demand may not be as severe as was previously feared, and that London’s target to generate 25 per cent of its energy from smaller, distributed community sources is achievable simply through better network management.

Gauging householder reaction to dynamic time-of-use (dTOU) electricity tariffs was another area of work. People in the trial were alerted to different rates for using electricity at different times of the day, depending on the level of renewable energy generation.

Most households almost doubled their consumption at low-price times, while reductions were seen at the highest rates, but perhaps equally interesting were attitudes to this system - on the whole very positive. Of those questinoed, 81 per cent said such tariffs should be available to everyone, and there were some further effects of helping households organise better, and educating the young. Consumer engagement is absolutely vital for a scheme like this, and this came out strongly, with the perception of complexity of the system largely based on how involved and informed people felt.

The company has also re-classified household electricity demand groups based on the very latest understanding of consumer demographics, technologies and energy efficiency - something it is recommended be taken up right across the UK electricity network.

These findings are just the tip of the iceberg, and there’s much more of interest to be found for anyone from the layperson to the technical expert. It’s likely that given the volume of information published from these trials, they will provide a drip-feed of reference material for those working in multiple areas of the low-carbon economy for some time to come.

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Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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