Sharing activity has proliferated in the last few years. Thanks to the rapid growth in applications like Uber and Air BnB, more people than ever are exchanging resources with each other to reduce costs and contribute towards sustainability. But while sharing cars and homes has become the norm, what about other resources like energy?
As the UK moves towards a low-carbon world, we are seeing a major shift in the way that people are consuming, generating and storing energy. Growing numbers are using smart technologies like electric cars, smart meters and home energy storage, and many are generating their own power through renewable energy sources in the home.
As the energy system becomes increasingly decentralised, digitalised and democratised in response to our country's transition to a low carbon economy, the next major trend we will see is the advent of people sharing energy. This could potentially render the traditional electricity supplier a thing of the past, with people trading energy with each other instead - sharing it at a local level with neighbours and friends. And if the expansion in renewables and smart technologies is anything to go by, the number of people doing this will rapidly increase over the coming years.
The advent of 'connected living' will make it much easier for communities to serve their own energy needs. As well as solar panels, more homes will be equipped with in-home control systems such as smart appliances like a smart fridge-freezer, smart heating and lighting systems. These consumer technologies will inevitably provide increased flexibility and freedom in home energy management. But it is the development of microgeneration and micro-storage that will take peer-to-peer energy trading to the next level.
By using domestic storage in combination with generating energy themselves, customers will be able to store surplus power in domestic batteries, and then use it at peak times to reduce bills or sell energy back to the electricity system, either using the electricity stored in the domestic storage or the battery of their electric vehicle. This would not only help network operators to better balance the load on the grid, but would also generate some extra revenue for the customer.
Giving communities the power to support their own energy needs and tackle challenging issues around energy management could have major implications for social inclusion and enable schools, hospitals and other public buildings to reduce their energy bills.
Community energy schemes could work successfully in a number of ways. For example, a homeowner could sell their own-generated electricity from the solar panels on their roof to their neighbour. Helping their neighbour to manage their household energy, but also save them money on their energy bills.
It could benefit the wider community too. For example, customers could donate the energy they generate through renewable energy sources to fuel poor customer groups, local charities and schools, enabling acts of kindness to be incorporated in to the transaction of energy.
The old idiom 'keeping up with the Joneses' will soon evolve to 'trading with the Joneses', where being neighbourly in helping your community meet its own energy needs emerges as a strong socio-economic motive and leads to social inclusion.
Community energy schemes and peer-to-peer energy trading represent an exciting future of opportunities and choice for customers and communities. However, for people to truly benefit from these opportunities, the networks need to evolve so that they can not only accommodate for the rising number of interactions that will be happening at a local level, but be afforded the additional flexibility to operate a secure, affordable and sustainable system.
To give customers the choice and freedom to do this, network operators must be able to not only manage the network, but design a smarter and more agile system that can respond to customers' needs as energy habits change. This will be key to giving people the full benefit of new technologies, and allowing communities to share energy at a local level and come together to support their own energy needs.
The networks that can master this will facilitate smart towns and cities that give customers and communities the autonomy and flexibility to generate, consume, buy and sell energy how they want.
Have your say on whether we are supporting this movement by responding to UK Power Networks' DSO consultation, at FutureSmart.ukpowernetworks.co.uk, or #FutureSmart on Twitter, by September 29.