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Future energy models for cities

At our recent London City Hall event, Future Cities Forum discussed important questions about our current energy systems for cities and how innovation is creating new models.

The Head of R&D UK at EDF Energy, Xavier Mamo, explained how important it was to use existing energy assets in combination with technology and 'smart' innovation to introduce ways of using and distributing low carbon sourced energy. He spoke about the Oxford City Council 'Project LEO' ('Local Energy Oxfordshire') which will develop a new model for the way in which local energy systems in Oxfordshire are managed and measured. The system will balance local demand with local supply in a real world environment - and will help test markets, inform investment models, and assess the benefits of flexibility to the energy system.

The project - which is a £40 million collaboration between ten partners including SSEN, EDF Energy, two councils and both the Oxford-based universities - will demonstrate the potential for people and communities to become active participants in the energy systems of the future. Project LEO will enable social enterprise, the Low Carbon Hub, to add to its 40+ projects with an extra £16 million of investment to work on projects with the community. The project is funded with £13.8 million from UK Research and Innovation and £26 million from private partners.

Xavier also spoke about the need to keep the customer at the front of innovation, and cited EDF's project with the residents of Elmore House in Brixton, London. This pioneering community energy initiative enables the block's residents to access energy generated from a solar PV system on the roof, store it in battery and then trade it - peer-to-peer - with one another using block chain technology. The project, set up with Repower London and UCL's Energy Institute, aims to increase residents' consumption of low carbon energy while reducing overall costs.

Co-Head of Energy at investor, Amber Infrastructure, Jenny Curtis, commented on the complexity of investing in low carbon projects. While she admired Bristol City Council's move to partner with a strategic private sector investor to help take the city to carbon zero by 2030, she said:

'When we are looking at funding a project we consider technology, policy and regulatory risks but there has been a policy vacuum recently especially around the de-carbonisation of heat... we have been encouraged to invest in Combined Heat & Power (CHP) but now the focus is on heat pumps. When you are investing in bricks and mortar it's pretty straightforward, but with energy it's an overlap of energy, digital, as well as communications and urban infrastructure. It is a complicated area.'

'Amber has been responding to the Treasury's Infrastructure Finance Review and political and regulatory uncertainty is an issue for investors. However it's important to look at how we solve things at a local level, where joined-up, integrated planning (of energy projects) must come to the fore. I would also recommend that local authorities look at energy storage, if they have spare land, because it's part of the new model developing around low carbon energy.'

Amber has invested in a range of energy projects for local authorities in communal heating solutions, serving both social and affordable housing, and this includes LEEF's scheme in Hackney which addresses fuel poverty, and the district heating network in Enfield's Lee Valley.

During the discussion,Teva Hesse of architects C F Moller described his practice's approach to re-thinking the design and community uses for heating networks and power plants. He stated how the energy plant on the Greenwich Peninsula had originally included plans for a school swimming pool on the roof making use of the plant's accumulator tanks, but that it was ruled out on cost grounds.

Tennis courts were also considered, he said, as was a grassy roof to encourage biodiversity.

However, the treatment of the 50 metre high exhaust flue was eventually highly successful, as artist Conrad Shawcross's design made sure it was hidden inside a piece of landmark sculpture, visible to motorists while queuing for the Blackwall Tunnel as well as by those travelling up and down the Thames.

Jenny Curtis of Amber Infrastructure - which financed the plant through one of the Mayoral funds - remarked that 'the image of the Greenwich power plant sculpture had done more than anything else to push the subject of district heat networks up the agenda in investor and council circles across the UK.'

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