A Wheely Great N76 Trip

Back when the sky was still blue and the N76 partners were getting ready for a busy summer of activities, the N76 group and guests visited the “Wheels of Fleet” community cycling project in Gatehouse of Fleet. Huge thanks to Thornhill & District Community Transport for getting us there safely. 

We were greeted by our host, Danny, and an impressive display of bikes. All bicycles available at Wheels of Fleet are second-hand, donated, and refurbished by their team of expert volunteers. Danny led us through the history of Wheels of Fleet, starting with his own idea to encourage cycling in a cycle-depleted community and leading to the formation of a local identity centred around cycling and community cohesion. After the presentation, the group explored the extensive warren of workshops and bikes, stopping to admire the herb garden along the way. 

Wheels of Fleet projects include second-hand sales and hire, e-bikes, led rides and repairs, as well as the all-important bike wash station. During our tour, volunteers were busy fixing bikes and happy cyclists came in and out, pausing to say hello to Danny. Wheels of Fleet is run with affordability and inclusivity in mind, making it a welcoming community hub. 

Alongside these projects, the weekly “bike bus” helps Gatehouse residents with the school run, getting children to school without cars and making the journey fun. Danny happily described the chatter and excited atmosphere that follows the bike bus as he and volunteers escort the young cyclists to school. 

With appetites worked up for cycling and for lunch, the group crossed the road to Galloway Lodge to enjoy some great food and continue the conversation with Danny. Thanks to Galloway Lodge for fitting us all in! 

You can keep up with Wheels of Fleet here

As part of the N76 project, we are running learning and networking events throughout the year. Over the next few months, other in-person and online events will be announced based on specific aspects of low-carbon transport that interest the N76 partners. To keep up with the N76 project and sign up to our events, follow us on Facebook.  

Community Energy Fortnight 2023: 10 – 23 June

Community Energy Fortnight – the opportunity to make your organisation’s activities visible within the local community and demonstrate to the rest of our sector, including influential stakeholders, what community energy and decarbonisation is about and the wide community benefits it creates.

The Community Energy Fortnight programme is a perfect spotlight to showcase our sector’s achievements, and even its challenges, to a wider audience.

Knowledge and skills sharing is a key focus for this year’s programme – share your own experiences and post links online to useful material you have produced or received. Or host your own skill sharing event! We will also be sharing information on social media so keep an eye on our daily posts.

You may have a video that could benefit others, or create one for the programme. If you organise a community event, tell everyone online about it too! Photos are always a winner and an easy win if you’re looking for a quick item to post online.

CEF 2023 Logo | Hashtag Banner | Email Signature | CEF 2023 Logo (transparent)

New EVs at Orkney’s Co Wheels Car Club

Exciting news for sustainable transport enthusiasts! Orkney’s Co Wheels Car Club has just received two brand-new electric vehicles (EVs). The new additions to the car club are two MG4s, a multiple award-winning electric car with a range of over 200 miles.

Community Energy Scotland (CES), in partnership with Co Wheels, is responsible for the yearly operation of one of the two MG4s and the other is the responsibility of Orkney-based EMEC (European Marine energy Centre).

The new car at the Kirkwall Pier replaces the previous vehicle supplied by the recently completed ReFLEX Orkney project. The project EV proved to be a popular choice for use by residents of the Northern Orkney Islands to access a car on Orkney Mainland without having to bring their own vehicles on the ferry. We are delighted to be able to continue the service and support residents with a brand new EV.

Smart locking and unlocking of a Car Club car

The Orkney Co Wheels Car Club includes three electric vehicles:

  • An MG4 at the Kirkwall pier
  • An MGZS at Sommerville Square, in Kirkwall
  • An MG4 at the ORIC building, in Stromness

The Car Club, operated by Co Wheels, a UK national social enterprise, is a membership-based service that allows members to rent vehicles for short periods of time, by the hour. Members reserve the MG4 through an easy online booking system, and then pick it up from a designated location. It’s a helpful and convenient option for people who do not want the expense and hassle of owning a personal vehicle, or for those who need access to a car for occasional use.

The Orkney Co Wheels Car Club is a positive step towards reducing our reliance on personal vehicles, encouraging the use of sustainable transport options. For the next year, CES is aiming to raise awareness of the Car Club so that it can benefit as many Orkney residents as possible and to establish a firm foundation for its future.

Smarter Choices Smarter Places awarded funding to CES to cover 50% of CES’ investment into the Car Club operation and communications. We are grateful for the opportunity this has given us to help make this local service possible.

Overall, the addition of new electric vehicles to the Orkney Co Wheels Car Club is a forward looking development for sustainable transport in the region. With convenient access to low-emission vehicles, residents and visitors alike can now travel around Orkney without relying on personal cars.

Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan published

The Scottish Government has published its draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan, which sets out key ambitions for a just energy transition that benefits communities across Scotland and protects our environment and energy security. Additional sectoral Just Transition Plans for Buildings and Construction, Land Use and Agriculture and Transport are expected to be published within the first half of 2023.

The Strategy includes commitments to increasing access to affordable energy, prioritising those in or at risk of fuel poverty. It also includes a commitment to maximising community benefits from, and ownership (including shared ownership) of, energy projects, and providing regional and local opportunities to participate in a net zero energy future.

The fact that Scotland has diverse communities with differing needs is recognised, and the report states that “by 2030, regions and communities will be empowered to participate in the energy transition in a way that meets their needs including increasing the number of community owned energy projects…. By 2030 the costs and benefits of the growth in our clean electricity generation will be shared equitably across society”. How this will be achieved is not specified; it will be important that community consultation on local issues is included in the final version of the strategy.

Specific programmes for rural and island communities are also highlighted, with Community Energy Scotland’s Carbon Neutral Islands project being mentioned, as well as £30 million of loans and grants for people on lower incomes in remote and island communities to switch to zero emissions vehicles. The need for investment in electricity infrastructure against rising costs of constraints  is recognised,  as well as the importance that charging arrangements are reformed as “in a net zero world it is counterproductive to care more about where generation is situated than what type of generation it is”.

“It is refreshing to see a draft Scottish Government strategy with communities at its heart. The recognition that a just energy transition needs to meet the needs of different communities and geographies is also particularly welcomed. We will now engage in the consultation process to ensure that communities are not only seen as key beneficiaries of the strategy but also as key actors in its realisation. Agencies such as Heat and Energy Scotland should work in partnership with local groups to reach the most vulnerable people and mobilise communities to help to achieve the Scottish Government’s targets on every aspect of energy, from reduction in energy demand, installation of additional renewable energy capacity and behavioural change towards public and active transport.

“Additional support for communities, both in terms of finance and capacity building, will also be required if the Scottish Government is to achieve its targets on active travel and energy efficiency, and especially its 2030 target of 2GW of community and locally owned energy, having missed the 2020 target.”

Zoe Holliday, CEO of Community Energy Scotland

The full document is available on the Scottish Government website and includes 50 consultation questions. Consultation responses should be submitted by Tuesday 4 April 2023. If you would like to contribute your feedback to CES’s consultation response please get in touch. info(at)communityenergyscotland.org.uk

Smart Energy Hero

Smart Energy GB and TV presenter Julia Bradbury launched a campaign last month to shine a light on the efforts of energy heroes who are generating energy.

“From households getting smart meters to community energy groups generating their own energy from solar panels or wind turbines and selling energy back to the grid, we are learning about where our energy comes from and proudly investing in a more resilient energy system. This campaign shows how the energy efforts of the heroes, and the community energy groups they are involved with, are helping to support our system and the vital role smart meters play in making it more secure.”

One of Smart Energy’s heroes is former Community Energy Scotland engineer, Andy Maybury, from Hawick. Andy has transformed his house into an energy-generating asset that consistently exports energy back onto the grid. This house was the first in Scotland to be awarded the title of ‘Superhouse’, due to the adaptations of which Andy has installed – most of them by himself. Andy also chairs the Hawick Community Energy Group Ltd, the local energy coop, and he also participates in TECC, the local electric vehicle car club in Hawick.

The launch follows research showing Scots significantly underestimate how much electricity is home-grown. On average, Scots estimate 38 per cent of our electricity is produced in the UK, compared to the 93 per cent that is actually produced. Research also found that a third (34 per cent) of Scots want to know more about where their energy comes from and 42 per cent support generating more energy in the UK to make our system smarter and more sustainable. (Research of 4,000 British adults conducted by OnePoll between 28th September and 3rd October)

Smart Energy GB – Guest blog

At Community Energy Scotland we value our team’s and communities’ opinions. Blogs are a chance for us, our members and guests to share personal opinions and expertise, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Community Energy Scotland as an organisation. Please note opinions may change and Community Energy Scotland does not offer any endorsements.

An N76 Adventure: Learning Visit to Beattock Station Action Group and Ettrick & Yarrow Development Trust

On a windy, rainy and downright Scottish November morning, the N76 in Motion group and guests set off on a learning visit to two community-driven transport projects in Dumfries & Galloway and the Scottish Borders.

A huge thank you to Tony, our volunteer driver from Thornhill and District Community Transport, for braving the downpour and getting us to our destinations safely.

Our first stop was in Beattock, where Ron from Beattock Station Action Group showed us the proposed sites for Beattock railway station and explained their long-standing and community-backed campaign for improved rail links with the central belt and elsewhere in Scotland. The campaign for a station at Beattock mirrors a similar issue in the N76 area, where community members are attempting to have the station at Thornhill reopened. Both Beattock and Thornhill are located on railway lines, but are more than 10 miles away from their closest stations. This makes it difficult for community members to travel further afield without relying on car ownership. Ron gave us some great insight into the work that has gone into the decade-long campaign for Beattock station and was happy to answer questions from our enthusiastic group. You can learn more about the campaign at Beattock Station Action Group | Keeping up to date with the plan to re-open Beattock Station.

The group refuelled at the famous Brodies of Moffat, where we were joined by Vicky from Annandale Community Transport Service. Good discussions were had with Vicky, as well as Selina from Third Sector Dumfries and Galloway and Stephen from Cairn Valley Community Transport, who joined us on the trip. It was a great experience to get everyone together and talk about something we are all invested in: Improving low-carbon transport options for the community. And after the long bus journey, the excellent food was particularly welcome.

Refreshed and energised, we set off into the hills past Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall, which was in full torrent. Our final destination was the old Ettrick primary school in the Scottish Borders, which is now the home of Ettrick & Yarrow Community Development Company. EYCDC is a development trust like the N76 partners, with a similar interest in low-carbon transport options. Key to this effort are the e-bikes, which locals and holidaymakers can rent for transport and recreation around Ettrick. EYCDC made sure to purchase e-bikes that can cope with the hilly local terrain and forest tracks, making them great all-rounders.

Other exciting projects include the electric car and charging point, used for business activities as well as for helping the local community. The development trusts were also eager to hear about the conversion of a farmstead into sustainable, affordable housing and business units, which are almost ready for their new occupants. And, perhaps more suited to visiting on a sunny day, EYCDC has developed a path encircling St Mary’s Loch – the organisation’s first major project, completed in 2015. To learn more about these and other projects, visit Projects (ettrickandyarrow.org.uk).

Our day concluded with a discussion on the many links between N76 partner projects and those of EYCDC, as well as some Q&A on their many projects. We enjoyed the cosy log burner for a little longer before climbing into the minibus and setting off home.

As part of the N76 project, we are running learning and networking events throughout the year including our visit to Beattock and EYCDC. Over the next few months, other events will be announced based on specific aspects of low-carbon transport that interest the N76 partners. These events are open to the public and there are a mixture of in-person and online formats. To keep up with the N76 project and sign up to our events, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Opinion piece regarding hydrogen in Scotland

Community Energy Scotland has written a position paper on hydrogen to support the Hydrogen Integration for Accelerated Energy Transitions (HI-ACT) centre. This paper forms our opinion about hydrogen in Scotland at the time of writing (October 2022) and you can read it here.

We have supported community groups in numerous hydrogen related innovation projects including: Outer Hebrides Local Energy Hub (OHLEH), Surf ‘n’ Turf and Building Innovative Green Hydrogen systems in Isolated Territories (BIG HIT)

Community Energy Scotland doesn’t view hydrogen as a goal but as a potential way to reduce human impact on the climate. We see that the integration of renewably generated hydrogen into Smart Local Energy Systems could deliver on low carbon societies in the future. We do not support hydrogen production that uses fossil fuels and emits carbon dioxide as a by-product as it hinders our vision of “communities actively shaping a low-carbon society that values wellbeing for all”.

At present, the real-world performance of hydrogen technology is lacking and the Integration Readiness Level is low. Without an established market for hydrogen, commercial viability is some way off. Two major barriers for hydrogen production are the need for upskilling local workforces to be able to maintain hydrogen systems, and the sourcing of adequate quantities of suitable water.

In the long term, hydrogen could reduce the amount of renewable generation capacity that is needed to meet peak demand by providing long-term energy storage, peak lopping, and other grid services. Traditional network reinforcement is required across most of Scotland to enable further renewable generation; it is our opinion that this is preferable to replacing diesel with hydrogen in power stations run by Distribution Network Operators.

The National Campaign for a Community Energy Revolution

Image courtesy of Aberdeen Community Energy

Community energy has the potential to significantly reduce the costs that we all must pay for our energy. The work that community energy groups do across Scotland and the rest of the UK, beyond renewable generation, is as impressive as it is varied: from fuel poverty relief, to grant giving, to helping improve energy efficiency in their local areas.

In 2014, a government report stated that community energy could deliver 3,000 MW of power-generating capacity by 2020 and that the potential for growth beyond this was even more substantial. With Community Energy currently contributing around 330 MW, and having barely grown UK-wide since that report came out, it is clear that this potential has not been realised. Last year the Environmental Audit Committee said that by 2030 the community energy sector could be up to 20 times larger, if given the right policy support. Without that support however, this potential will continue to be wasted.

It is important to note how scalable Community Energy could be. This is not a niche thing to be enjoyed only by those lucky enough to have a scheme near them: there are extensive natural resources across Scotland that remain untapped. Many more local wind, solar and hydro installations could spring up all over the country, and thrive if given the chance.

The major block that must be removed is that at present it is impossible for community energy projects to sell the energy they generate directly to local people, except those who supply through necessity, as their communities are off-grid. The process of becoming an on-grid licenced supplier is wholly disproportionate – upwards of £1 million – and so burdensome that currently none exist across the whole of the UK.

Under the current regulations and excluding those off the grid, supply is only feasible at a national level. As a result, it is extremely difficult for local schemes to get a fair price for the energy they generate. At present they can either sell back into the grid or to a large national utility, both at fractions of the cost we all pay for our energy. Many projects struggle or go under, and many more find that setting up a project is not financially viable.

In the existing market setup, scaling up community energy is not feasible: we are campaigning for change. We have drafted the Local Electricity Bill, which is in Parliament as a proposed piece of legislation, and are building support to try and see it made law. The Bill would make the costs and complexities of becoming a local supplier proportionate to the scale of the generation project. This would fundamentally change the financials around setting up and running a community energy project, by creating a new potential source of revenue.

The benefits of such a change felt locally would be significant. If local people were able to buy their clean energy directly from a local co-operative supplier, not only would they be able to get it for a fairer price, but by keeping the money circulating within our local areas, that money could go towards supporting local businesses and new skilled local jobs, and could be reinvested into our communities through local initiatives like fuel poverty relief.

Over 80 national and international organisations have added their names in support of the Bill, including Solar Energy UK, British Hydropower Association, the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology, Energy Saving Trust, 4 of the UK’s 6 Distribution Network Operators (DNOs, the companies that own and manage the UK’s regional grid infrastructure), RSPB, The National Trust, Greenpeace, WWF and many more. Over 1000 local organisations and councils have also added their names in support all over the UK, and we are hoping that many more will continue to do so.

Through our work, and as a result of many people and organisations across the UK advocating often and loudly for the Bill, a cross-party group of 306 MPs have added their names in support. This is close to a majority in Parliament, and is extremely encouraging progress. If you have taken action for the Bill already, thank you very much – it is because of you that we are close to winning.

Back in November of last year, we organised a debate about the Bill in Parliament. Because it was well attended by MPs from all over the UK and from all major parties, the Energy Minister, Greg Hands, agreed to meet with us to discuss the technical detail of how the Bill could be implemented. As a result of this meeting with Mr Hands and his policy advisors, we have drafted a new policy discussion paper, and are in the process of scheduling another meeting.

The upcoming Energy Security Bill, which was announced in the Queen’s Speech in May, is a fantastic opportunity. The first energy Bill for almost 10 years, its intentions are to ensure the security and decarbonisation of the UK’s energy supply. Community Energy should rightly be a part of these considerations, as it has huge potential to deliver both.

In the coming months, we plan to organise that provisions for Community Energy, such as those contained in the Local Electricity Bill, are included as a clause in this new Energy Security Bill. We are in a promising position: with 306 MPs on board already, nearly a majority in Parliament support the campaign. We will continue to work to ensure that this opportunity is not missed, and please do all that you can to help ensure that as well.

If you have not yet signed up to support our campaign, either as an organisation or as an individual, please do so. Our website has a list of all the MPs that support the Bill so far: if your MP does not yet support the Bill, please urge them to do so by writing to and meeting with them. If your MP does support it, please ask them to speak in favour of the need to enable and empower community energy generation schemes at the upcoming Second Reading of the Westminster Government’s

Energy Security Bill. If you would like suggested points to make when asking your MP to do this please get in touch with us.

A big thank you to everyone who has already been campaigning with us for this change. Together, we can win this.

Rupert Meadows, Campaigns and Engagement Officer, Power for People – Guest blog

At Community Energy Scotland we value our team’s and communities’ opinions. Blogs are a chance for us, our members and guests to share personal opinions and expertise, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Community Energy Scotland as an organisation. Please note opinions may change and Community Energy Scotland does not offer any endorsements.

N76 Energy in Motion Kick-off

Part 1

Earlier this month, the six partners that make up the N76 project, alongside three members of Community Energy Scotland staff – Matthew Logan, Benny Talbot and myself, congregated in person for the first time to officially set the wheels in motion (pun intended!). The project supports communities throughout the Nith Valley region to develop low carbon community transport initiatives. The Keir, Penpont & Tynron Development Trust (KPTDT) dutifully offered to host the day’s proceedings at their Three Villages Café in Penpont. The remaining parties descended upon the village from various points along the Nith Valley, including Sanquhar, Kirkconnell & Kelloholm, New Cumnock, Closeburn and Moniave.

Fully caffeinated and comfortably in from the cold, we began with a novel activity I’ve come to call “Virtue Signals”. Aware of its use mainly as a pejorative and keen to reclaim the term for good, the aim of the activity was for each participant to introduce their communities by a virtuous characteristic and to accompany said virtue with a hand gesture or “signal”. Resilience, eclecticism, stoicism and creativity were among those mentioned; all of which would inform the discussions to be had later in the day.

With introductions out of the way, we sought to further engage our bodies and minds and set about constructing a “People Map”. Imagining the café floor as a map of mainland Scotland (not to scale), participants were tasked with positioning themselves in relation to one another to reflect where they had travelled from to attend the event. We then arranged ourselves in order of shortest to longest journey in terms of both distance and time. This exercise gave us a sense of the geographic scale of the project as well as the disparity between modes of transit and overall journey time.

Feeling suitably energised, we next set aside some time for reflecting on three simple questions – How did we get here? Where are we going? How do we get there? These questions were made deliberately open to try and evoke answers both literal and figurative. Respondents were urged to reflect on not only the modes of transport we used to be there, but also the motivations that lead each of us to join the project; not just the journeys that we make on a regular basis, but the direction that we foresee the project going in; and not simply the forms of future mobility we’d like to see, but the necessary steps we would need to take to achieve those outcomes.

Having plunged the depths of our collective imaginations, we then took some time to review some of the baseline research I had conducted within the first few weeks since assuming my role as project officer. This process allowed me to identify what I perceived as the common desires and interests shared among the partnership, and how that might inform the direction of the project. With that we announced a comfort break, but left the various charts and figures on full display to be mulled over during our down time.

Re-caffeinated and fully digested of all data, we then got down to brass tacks – namely identifying and prioritising the themes that we intend to explore over the course of our event series. This was an arduous process that saw us initially divide into two groups before coalescing to find consensus within the chaos. Without too much compromise, we eventually found a natural order that best represented the interests of all involved parties. Satisfied with the outcome of our consensus building, we drew a close to our morning session and declared a break for lunch – a hearty root vegetable stew with homemade cornbread lovingly prepared by our generous hosts. Yum!

Part 2

Following lunch, Maureen Halkertt, chair of the KPTDT, provided us with an overview of the proposed active travel path that, when completed, will eventually join the village of Penpont with neighbouring Thornhill. Presently, Thornhill is only accessible by narrow country road and is plagued by fast-moving cars and heavy agricultural vehicles; the likes of which makes it unpleasant and, in some cases, too hazardous to navigate by active means. A segregated path of appropriate construction would mean that children as young as 12 could walk or wheel to secondary school unsupervised and with relative ease. 

Another of KPT’s board members, Sue King Smith, told us about her involvement in the development of a micro-hydro generation site for the village. Initial feasibility studies suggested that a micro-hydro would not be viable; however, local knowledge prevailed and, contrary to official records, the direction of flow further upstream of the Marr burn meant that there was sufficient fall to generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 30 homes. The site also houses a modest sensory garden consisting of aromatic herbs and even some connectivity for a potential electric vehicle charging site.  

Next, KPT development officer Senga Greenwood spoke about her experience of procuring a fleet of eight electric bikes and one electric cargo bike for use by both community members and visitors alike. Given the disparate nature of KPT’s remit, finding a way in which communal assets can be shared equitably throughout the community was no easy task; however, with the express consent of all three villages, Senga arrived at a solution in which a single point of distribution would be situated in Penpont, which happens to be the largest and most central of the three villages.  

Due to launch over the Easter period, the e-bike scheme will be freely accessible to all local residents for the first six months. It is hoped that beyond this initial period, the program will generate enough revenue to achieve financial stability and be fiscally self-sustaining within its first year of operation. The program will also provide local employment opportunities in the form of custodial and maintenance roles, who will themselves receive support and training to become certified in e-bike servicing and repairs. 

Finally, we ventured to the other side of the village to inspect a new community growing space. Once the tennis court of a nearby estate, the site had been disused for a number of decades and become overgrown before it was generously offered up by the local laird for use by the community. The modest 3/4 of an acre site sits nestled on the banks of the Scaur water. Plans exist to erect raised beds and polytunnels to facilitate skills sharing and knowledge exchange with a view of building a resilient local community with the necessary resources to make healthier, more cost effective choices with regards to food, whilst also providing a safe and inviting space in which to congregate. 

In an attempt to connect the theme of community growing with transport, I proposed another new activity – this one called simply “food miles”. I had brought with me a selection of five vegetables that I’d purchased from my local supermarket, all of which could potentially be grown in Scotland given the right conditions and seasonality, and tasked participants with guessing the country of origin of each item. Spring onions? Egypt. Garlic? Spain. Spinach? Italy. Squash? South Africa! Even the act of driving to the shops is perhaps made redundant given the ability to grow fresh produce within a walking distance of your own home; and while ¾ of an acre might not feed an entire village, community growing spaces are instrumental in bridging existing skills gaps and reconnecting people with the simple act of growing.  

On that note we trundled back to the Three Villages Café for some final reflections before bidding farewell and parting ways. Until next time! 

Liam Templeton, N76 EiM Project Officer @CES

At Community Energy Scotland we value our team’s and communities’ opinions. Blogs are a chance for us, our members and guests to share personal opinions and expertise, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Community Energy Scotland as an organisation. Please note opinions may change and Community Energy Scotland does not offer any endorsements.

What is the RIIO-ED2 Business Plan and why is it important for Community Energy?

For the last two years, in addition to his regular role, CES’ Benny Talbot has been inputting to the RIIO ED2 process for deciding how our energy networks are invested in. Below he reflects on
the process, and the likely changes ahead.

What is RIIO and why does it matter?

RIIO was created as a way to agree 5 year investment plans between Ofgem (the energy system regulator) and the Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) who own the network. This is needed for two main reasons. Firstly, because DNOs are sole network owners and operators in a given area, overseen by the regulator, Ofgem, which aims to create economic competition, ensuring that existing and future consumers pay a fair price for the cost of running these networks and get the services they require – the DNOs must balance this with the need to ensure the UK remains internationally competitive to shareholder investment; and secondly because ownership of the UK distribution network is divided between 14 regions, owned by 6 separate companies, so RIIO is there to help Ofgem set common standards for investments and standards of service across the whole of the UK.

UK DNO Regions
Image credit: Barryob at English Wikipedia

While in practice RIIO is a long and complicated process, the essence of it is quite simple – first Ofgem sets out its expectations, then each DNO draws up and costs an investment plan to meet those expectations, and finally Ofgem reviews the plans and makes a decision on which parts of the plans to OK, and which to challenge or reject. All investment agreed upon is ultimately charged by the DNOs to energy consumers via their bills, plus a regulated profit margin.

However, the Climate Crisis has transformed RIIO from a complex but routine budgeting excise for maintaining the grid, into a key strategic forum to ensure we can achieve net zero, due to the massive strategic investment now needed to enable the grid to support the electrification of heat and transport, and the continued expansion of renewables.

This has also placed a dilemma at the heart of the RIIO process. Keeping investment as low as possible would mitigate the already spiralling cost of living crisis, but exacerbate the very real risk that constraints on the electricity network prevent or delay effective climate action. A better way forwards would be to pay for strategic investment in our networks via progressive taxation, not energy bills – but that decision is rests with the government. Until then, Ofgem is forced to navigate between two competing demands: fuel poverty, or climate action?

The RIIO process is struggling to evolve to meet these new tensions. In particular, given the rapid changes we are seeing in climate plans, targets, and the technology evolving to help meet these needs, the 5 year planning cycles of RIIO are beginning to look increasingly clunky. Instead, an increasing number of ad hoc ‘uncertainty mechanisms’ are being proposed to allow decision making within the 5 year periods. However, the devil will be in the detail of these new uncertainty mechanisms, and it remains to be seen whether they will be able to reach the right decisions, decide fast enough, or enable meaningful consultation with energy system users.

‘DSO’ and the implications for Community Energy

My role in all of this was as a member of the Consumer Engagement Group (CEG) for the SP Energy Networks (SPEN) region (the SP Energy Networks region covers southern Scotland, northern Wales and Merseyside). Over the course of the last two years, as SPEN developed their plan, they were to provide us with regular updates and the CEG was tasked with challenging SPEN’s plans to ensure that the needs and preferences of the energy system’s users were being taken into account. The CEG then wrote our own report on SPEN’s plan, to help Ofgem make its final decision.

Within the CEG, I led on responding to SPEN’s ‘DSO’ plans. DSO stands for Distribution System Operator, and describes a change in how networks could operate, in order to free up significant extra capacity. The basic idea is that instead of running a ‘fit and forget’ system, with enough spare capacity to ride out even the largest expected surges in demand or generation, DNOs could use modern digital technology to monitor and control power flows in real time. Much more demand and generation could then be connected to the existing wires, because the DNO would be confident that when the occasional surge in generation or demand arrived they could detect it and respond in real time (eg. by temporarily turning down some loads or generators) and keep the network safe. While there is no way to avoid the need for massive new investment in the network to enable net zero, DSO could reduce these costs and free up network capacity faster than would otherwise be possible.

However for DSO to really succeed, there will need to be a change in how we as energy users relate to the network. This is beginning to be seen as a need for ‘democratisation’ of the network, with energy users becoming more important and active participants – and also an opportunity for customers to earn money by providing ‘flexibility’ services to the DNO, in turning energy use or generation up and down to help manage network constraints. Of course, sharing more data on our energy use and installing new smart technology also comes with risks. Foremost among these are a loss of privacy, increasingly complex electricity bills, and/or those who are less tech savvy being left behind, ending up with systems they don’t understand and paying more for their energy.

Community energy groups, as local trusted intermediaries, should have a key role in bringing people together to navigate this new system, and support those who will otherwise be left behind. Meanwhile DSO could also open up new opportunities for community-led local energy projects, for example where groups bring together local energy users or generators to contract with their DNO and collectively deliver ‘flexibility’ services to the network.

SPEN’s RIIO ED2 DSO plans contain significant commitments, including; to roll out network monitoring and real time control via ‘CMZ’ zones (which can include Active Network Management) across around half of their network by 2028; to provide 80% of new generators with a flexible connection option alongside their standard connection offer; and adopt an ’assumed open’ process for the data they collect, sharing it via an online hub.

CEG photo images’ credit: SP Energy Networks

Among other issues, I challenged SPEN on how well they were able to consult on their DSO plans given the complexity of this new field, to provide much more specific commitments on what network data they will share, and to give meaningful consideration to where supporting domestic energy efficiency could be used as an alternative to network reinforcement. SPEN now propose to set up an independent panel to ensure that customers and stakeholders’ needs are represented as the DSO rollout continues, and have fleshed out their proposals for data sharing to include real time data and impending curtailment forecasts on ANM networks to enable curtailment trading – data that community generators on Orkney (in the SSEN rather than SPEN zone) have been requesting for the last 5 years.

Challenges from me and colleagues in the CEG also played a key role in SPEN deciding to publish a Just Transition Strategy and a Community Energy Strategy for the first time, both of which SPEN now propose to maintain and update regularly. I was impressed at how SPEN staff took forward these issues, recognising the significant role that community groups could play, and coming forwards with proposals significantly beyond the baseline required by Ofgem, including proposing a £30 million Net Zero fund (of which 25% would be ring fenced for support of community energy), and to provide dedicated community energy advice, awareness raising and technical support services, as well as support to local authorities in making Local Area Energy Plans.

Some key outstanding questions remain. Firstly, whether (and how) SPEN and other DNOs will recognise the potential for domestic energy efficiency upgrades to be used as an alternative to reinforcing the network. Secondly, how far DSO should be run as a separate entity to the DNO to avoid conflicts of interest – SPEN haven’t gone as far in separating the two as some UKPN, for example. Finally, it remains to be seen both exactly how much extra capacity DSO will free up, how cheaply, and how fast new capacity will actually be needed in the network; but the crucial mechanisms for monitoring its effectiveness, and scaling DSO and traditional network investment accordingly are not yet entirely clear.

SPEN’s RIIO ED2 plan and their DSO plan have now been published and can be viewed online, as can the CEG’s report on these plans to Ofgem. Ofgem will hold an open hearing on SPENs plan on 24th March, which is open to the public to attend, and expect to make final determinations on all plans this winter. The RIIO ED2 plans will then guide network investment from 2023 to 2028.

Benny Talbot, Innovation Development Manager @CES

At Community Energy Scotland we value our team’s and communities’ opinions. Blogs are a chance for us, our members and guests to share personal opinions and expertise, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Community Energy Scotland as an organisation. Please note opinions may change and Community Energy Scotland does not offer any endorsements.

Contact to Listing Owner

Captcha Code
Skip to content