Report: Businesses hosting decentralised energy 'key' to meeting net-zero

Onsite renewable generation by businesses and households will need to play a "key" role in the energy system if the UK is to reach its 2050 net-zero target, new research has concluded.

Between 2013 and 2017, solar capacity hosted by businesses and homes grew by 330% to reach 2.1GW

Between 2013 and 2017, solar capacity hosted by businesses and homes grew by 330% to reach 2.1GW

The study, by the Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE), found that the UK’s transition away from centralised energy systems is happening “at a pace”, with 500,000 homes now connected to heat networks and onsite renewable generation capacity having surpassed 2.1GW in 2017.

But it claims that these efforts, along with those in the spaces of customer-owned energy efficiency measures and ‘smart’ energy technologies will need to be scaled up in order to create a “just” transition to a truly net-zero economy.

The ADE is using its research to encourage the adoption of a “future-smart, user-led” energy system, in which business and domestic consumers become “prosumers” – actively generating, selling and timing energy rather than simply purchasing it.

Its vision for this system consists of onsite generation, flexibility and energy storage; the adoption of “widespread” energy efficiency measures; low-carbon heat networks and combined heat and power (CHP) facilities hosted at business sites.

According to the ADE, rapid growth in the market for flexibility services from homes and businesses could reduce peak power demand by up to 15%, which could translate to a £2.4bn saving if passed on to consumers. The body estimates that a third of commercial energy demands and almost a quarter of industrial energy demands could be made flexible before mid-century.

On energy efficiency, the ADE claims that technologies and innovative industrial processes could slash the UK’s business energy bills by £6bn between now and 2030, with a further £400 per home, per year, to be reaped in savings in the domestic space.

And regarding CHP, it has forecast that demand from businesses for heat generated in this way will triple to 15GW by 2050.

The ADE’s director Tim Rotheray said that these findings show that facing the UK’s ‘Climate Emergency’ can be an opportunity, as well as a challenge, for all.

“Whether through onsite generation, storage, energy efficiency, capturing waste heat or smart vehicle charging, the next stage of the energy revolution centres on the energy user,” Rotheray said.

“From homes to industrial sites, we need to help energy users drive a dramatic change in our energy system. Those same users will benefit from lower bills, cleaner air and even a rebate on their power bill for helping the system.”

Clean energy: Transition or revolution?

Amid the increasing decentralisation and digitisation of the energy sector, the ADE is just one body to have stressed the importance of a more consumer-led approach to decarbonising the power sector.

Former National Grid boss Steve Holliday, for example, has claimed that the actions of businesses and energy consumers have turned the low-carbon energy transition into a “chaotic revolution”, in which the country has shifted away from a focus on the scale of energy systems to a more local approach.

Similarly, the Labour Party’s energy spokesman Alan Whitbread has been urging Government to update its current regulation system to better support decentralised energy generation and storage, as has think tank and charity Green Alliance, particularly in regards to community solar schemes.

The appetite to drive this change can be seen across the private sector. New research from Centrica Business Solutions this week found that more than 80% of UK businesses generating renewable energy onsite plan to increase capacity over the next five years – a trend which Npower's former chief executive Paul Massara recently told edie he had been noticing firsthand

Sarah George


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