Recognising the role for on-site energy in the UK

Steve Hodgson

‘Medium-sized local energy projects such as solar arrays, wind turbines and district heating systems could bring considerable benefits to local communities and the country as a whole, but government needs to do more support businesses, cooperatives, local authorities and other public sector organisations who wish to install them.’

Not the latest editorial from COSPP magazine, but the first paragraph of a summary of a recent report: Local energy from the UK House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee.

While CHP/cogeneration has always been local, principally because of limits to how far heat can be transported effectively, it now seems that the wider concept of on-site, decentralized energy is taking root, at least in Britain and probably further afield. This parliamentary report has now been followed-up by publication of a more hard-headed assessment of the scope for on-site generation In the UK, from energy consultancy Utylix, which foresees UK on-site energy growing by more than half again from the current 9% of total generating capacity by 2030.
Heat network

The company defines on-site, or decentralized, energy as energy generated by low carbon or renewable technologies close to where it will be consumed.

Utylix is clear that the largest contribution to energy cost and carbon emissions savings will be made by CHP plants, but is also enthusiastic about energy-from-waste schemes and solar power. The consultancy normally specialises in managing energy costs for UK businesses through smarter procurement and energy efficiency measures to reduce consumption, but now suggests that businesses should also consider generating some of their energy needs themselves.

Both reports list the well-understood advantages of decentralized energy. These include lower energy costs and a measure of independence from national grids for end users; and reduced electricity transmission losses and a more diverse, and therefore more robust, network for electricity distribution operators. But the parliamentary report also stresses social benefits that could flow from local ownership of generation schemes, including the potential for energy users to adopt more energy-conscious behaviour and greater public engagement in carbon reduction initiatives.

Utylix takes a different tack, suggesting that businesses should be worried about the increasing cost of centrally-generated power and the security of centralised energy supplies in the UK, particularly at a time when the system needs huge amounts of new investment. Self-generation obviates these risks, says Utylix, concluding that: ‘a properly targeted decentralized energy system is an important part of any integrated energy strategy.’ I couldn’t have put it better myself.

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