A formidable consortium of partners has come together to lead an innovative community energy initiative, in Nottingham, which could become a model for providing low-carbon energy solutions at residential developments across the UK.
Trent Basin in Nottingham, which current comprises 45 homes, is preparing to install Europe’s largest community battery (2MWh), and solar photovoltaics that will generate, store and distribute energy at a neighbourhood level, and launch a unique energy company for residents.
Business, government and academic partners have come together, supported by Innovate UK, to pilot state-of-the-art technologies and unique business models. The Trent Basin model will demonstrate how to lower cost and reduce carbon whilst allowing residents to better engage with the energy they consume.
Homeowners at Trent Basin will be invited to participate in the project and, by opting in, will look to make significant savings in energy costs. Technologies to be employed include photovoltaic panels, communal battery and heat stores and ground source heat pumps.
The project, which involves groundbreaking research, technology and installation, is being supported by £6m of grant funding from Innovate UK via two energy programmes – the Energy Research Accelerator (ERA) and Project SCENe (Sustainable Community Energy Networks).
The consortium of partners delivering the scheme, include the developers Blueprint, the University of Nottingham, AT Kearney, Smartklub, Siemens, URBED, Slam Jam, Sticky World, Loughborough University, Solar Ready and supported by Nottingham City Council.
Gordon Waddington, Chief Executive of the Energy Research Accelerator (ERA), said: “One of the great issues of our time is to try and make enough clean energy quickly and cheaply. This is a global issue, and perhaps the greatest technical challenge we face. The aim of ERA is to bring together expertise to demonstrate what can be done through thinking and working innovatively and collaboratively.
“The Community Energy demonstrator at Trent Basin is a great example of how existing technologies can be used to enable communities to significantly reduce their reliance on non-renewable energy sources.”
The Community Energy project is being developed by industry and an academic team headed up by Professor Mark Gillott, Professor of Sustainable Building Design, Faculty of Engineering, at the University of Nottingham.
Impact on energy sector
With over 20 years’ experience in low carbon, sustainable energy technologies and building design, Professor Gillott is leading the University of Nottingham’s research programme at the Trent Basin, including the ERA demonstrator and Project SCENe. He commented: “This home-grown smart technology will have a huge impact on the UK’s energy sector for decades to come and home owners will feel the benefits in their pockets with cheaper energy bills. Our aim is to make it commercially viable which will increase the take up of the technology and revolutionise the energy sector.
“We need a mind shift away from personalised household energy generation, storage and use to larger community schemes that provide greater efficiencies and cost savings.”
Councillor Alan Clark, Portfolio Holder for Energy & Sustainability at Nottingham City Council, commented: “I am delighted that Nottingham has been chosen to pilot this innovative scheme. This highlights that the city is at the cutting edge of energy innovation, having the right people and infrastructure to get these types of projects off the ground. This growth in community renewable energy will help to sustain our status as the most energy self-sufficient city in the UK.”
Delivering community energy
Nick Ebbs, Chief Executive of Blueprint, a public-private partnership committed to the production of sustainable homes and workspaces, and which is managing the Trent Basin development, added. “Technologies now exist that mean we can deliver community energy in a way that can bring real benefits to consumers and significantly reduce carbon. The barrier to adoption has been the complexity of putting consumers, new technologies and business models together in a way that makes it all work. That is why Innovate UK is supporting this pilot. We feel privileged to be involved in such a ground-breaking initiative.”
“The distribution system will be connected to the grid and, in addition to drawing renewable energy from community sources, will be able to buy power from the grid when it has surplus and redistribute to meet demand. There is a need to find ways to store energy typically at night when demand is slack, smoothing out the peaks and troughs of supply and demand.
“The way we generate and distribute energy in the UK is inefficient and carbon intensive. It doesn’t have to be like this. With new technologies, especially in renewable energy and storage it is possible to do better.”
Creative Energy Homes
Project SCENe is informed by the University of Nottingham’s multi-award winning Creative Energy Homes low/zero carbon housing project which incorporates a heat network and electricity micro-grid which utilises community energy stores and demand side management technologies:
Residents that opt into the scheme will have photovoltaic panels installed on their roofs, and be provided with smart meters and voice controlled speakers for access to live data on energy created, stored and consumed. An urban solar panel farm will also be installed on the areas of the site yet to be developed and as houses are built, panels transferred to each home.
Trent Basin will grow through five phases to create a new neighbourhood of 500 homes. Subsequent investment will include ground source heat pumps which will generate heat for local storage, distribution and use. Clean, green energy for the pumps will be sourced from the photovoltaic panels and community battery.
A game-changer for the energy market
Nick Ebbs continued: “The project takes our commitment to sustainability to an entirely new level. Our aspiration is to be able to replicate the model, once proven, with our future pipeline of large scale residential projects. It’s a game changer for the energy market.”
Trent Basin is a £100 million residential development which is part of the 250-acre Waterside Regeneration area in Nottingham. Phase One, completed at the end of 2016, comprises 45 low energy homes including eight apartments. Just 4 homes now remain for sale and construction on Phase Two will start later this year.