Plug for Upcoming Carbon Coop event in Manchester – ‘hacking the energy system’

Reposted from here.

What next for community energy?

Community energy has been hard hit by cuts to renewable subsidies and It is a time of great change and uncertainty for those in the sector. In this blog post I look at some of the ideas for the way forward for community energy. We will be discussing all these issues and more at our forthcoming event – ‘Hacking the energy system’. For more details see:

Over the past month I have been to a variety of energy-related events around the country including the Community Energy Conference, Clean Energy Live, and the Low Carbon Networks Innovation conference, which has given me a broad overview of the current state of the progressive part of the energy sector. Times are hard for community energy following the drastic reductions in subsidies, which formed the basis of most community energy schemes and registrations for new organisations have plummeted. This follows the fortunes of the small-scale solar sector which has collapsed with several businesses going under and the loss of thousands of jobs. The new government has also not given much reason for hope in the future. Having agreed the Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor at a strike price far above market rates (and according to some above even the cost of solar plus storage today) it has also recently progressed plans to impose fracking on communities around the UK in seeming contradiction with its recent re-committment to EU and international green house gas reduction targets. The recent proposed changes to rate relief (currently the subject of an early day motion in parliament and talking up of the ‘costs of embedded generation’ are also worrying. Onshore wind also continues to be out of favour (despite buoyant public support in most of the country) and subject to special local vetos despite its low costs (to be compared with fracking which enjoys a government veto over local objections!). There is talk of a new Contracts for Difference (CfD) tender aimed atlarge scale solar and storage, although this will likely only benefit existing large EPC (Engineering Procurement Construction) contractors and financiers who have dominated the large scale solar sector for several years. Despite all of this community energy groups continue to deliver schemes around the country and new technologies and market reforms offer a way forward.

New business models/technology for community energy

Whilst the country has seen an unprecedented shift away from coal to gas and renewables over the past 10 years, other technology has been waiting in the wings ready for its turn. The national smart meter rollouthas properly begun despite serious concerns around its ability to meet targets for deployment, ongoing uncertainty over the technical specficication of the metering systems, and delays in deploying the IT infrastructure which will collect all the data. Community energy could make ready use of the data from smart meters to conduct energy assessments and plan and deliver products and services to members and consumers. But there are questions over costs and speed of access to consumer data which could make it difficult for small organisations to make the most of this opportunity. Whatever happens smart meters and smart grids are here to stay as they are crucial to shifting to a low carbon electricity system, it is more a question of when it will happen rather than if it will happen.

Many companies are currently trialling demand side response technology which also depends heavily on smart metering in order to determine if and when people use their electricity. Demand side response seeks to effect changes in electricity use on the demand side (usually reductions in use) and has been used to balance the national grid for decades by controlling large industrial consumers with non-time sensitive applications (think aluminium smelting and cement plants). This is a relatively easy way of introducing flexibility into the grid with clear financial benefits for all parties. Smaller business and domestic customers are much harder and costlier to engage, although there is a lot of potential flexibility with millions of electricity consumers (and/or their appliances) involved. Community energy could have a role to play in such efforts as a trusted partner to other organisations trying to engage communities who are mis-trustful of external organisations and energy companies. This has been shown to be crucial in various demand side response trials to date.

There is also a huge amount of excitement over lithium battery storage at the moment due to rapid cost reductions from mass production and developments in cell technology. Storage in general has been identified as crucial for creating flexibility and offering a range of services in the electricity system. Despite this it remains expensive and competes directly with efficiency savings and demand side response which arguably should come before throwing more tech at the problem. Storage offers some opportunities for community energy; it could be added to traditional schemes or even deployed on its own in the right circumstances to access new revenue streams. There is a danger with storage technology that it removes large companies and high-income consumers from the grid, driving up costs for everyone else who has to continue to rely on grid infrastructure. Community level storage makes a lot more sense both economically and to ensure everyone can benefit from low carbon electricity supply.

Local Supply

One idea that could provide a lifeline to community energy schemes is local supply, where local small scale generation can sell directly to local consumers, possibly in partnership with an existing supplier. Given the make up of an average electricity bill (16% supplier operational costs/profits, 27% network costs, 32% wholesale costs) there would seem to be substantial value that could be extracted from local supply of electricity which could be passed on to consumers in bill savings whilst supporting local community renewable generation. These numbers are distorted for large suppliers who are vertically integrated and sell electricity to themselves thus reducing the effective wholesale costs and increasing the chunk going to their profit margins. In some ways local supply is a way of beating the Big 6 at their own game! For this reason local or direct supply is one of Community Energy England‘s key policy areas and has risen up the agenda with the withdrawal of subsidies.

An example of local supply would be a small scale renewable generator, which typically can get only basic export tariffs (~4-5p per unit) for the electricity they generate and export to the grid, supplying electricity to local consumers on the same part of the distribution network. These local consumers may be paying 15p per kWh at the moment to their normal supplier, but could directly pay the local generators and a proportionately smaller amount in other costs, hopefully saving money in the process. Some have taken this even further suggesting peer-to-peer energy trading, although such an unregulated arrangement might make balancing supply and demand difficult and increase charging complexity in a way that offsets the benefits.

The main issue with such an idea at the moment is that supply of electricity is a highly regulated activity and so organisations wanting to sell to consumers need scale in order to break even. It is an activity beyond the reach of small volunteer led community organisations. The regulator Ofgem has made some efforts to address this possibility with their ‘Licence Lite’, but this requires generators to partner with an existing electricity supplier in a complex manner and suppliers don’t have much incentive to engage in such arrangements. In the case of large suppliers it undermines their business models as vertically integrated supply and generation companies and in the case of small ‘independent’ suppliers the legal and logistical overheads make it difficult to make work. More forward-thinking suppliers have push ahead with local supply anyway with the example of Co-operative Energy partnering with Energy Local in Bethesda, Wales to supply locally generated hydro power.

Part of the solution may lie with the Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) who stand to benefit from local supply arrangements as it can reduce network reinforcement and upgrade costs on constrained parts of the distribution network. Western Power Distribution have negotiated a novel connection offset agreement with local generators and Tempus Energy in partnership with WREN and RegenSW in a project known as theSunshine Tariff. This avoids the need for network reinforcement due to the connection of new generation by offsetting it through offering time of use tariffs to local consumers which encourage them to match their consumption to local generation.

Going forward DNOs could help enable such schemes with small changes to the charging infrastructure such as the idea of ‘virtual private wires’ or ‘virtual MPANs’ (the unique identifiers associated with electricity billing unit) which aggregate demand and generation units for settlement (the process of determining who used what and how much to bill them for). This would allow settlement to occur within the current system automatically under current charging arrangements (see: This may also obviate the need to move to a specific supplier to make schemes work as the charging is transparent to any particular supplier’s system (the need to move to a particular supplier has caused recruitment problems for local supply schemes in the past). The supplier/local generator relationship is then reduced to a commercial contract for electricity supply/generation which is much simpler than that proposed under License Lite. The creation of virtual meters would also fully realise the role of aggregators in the energy system who could then derive income from reducing distribution and transmission charges by balancing across local networks and pass these savings onto their members. Energy co-operatives would be a natural fit to administering such aggregator arrangements.

However, like some of the schemes mentioned above, this would still probably mean operating in a grey area of regulation or requiring special dispensation from Ofgem – so more work is needed to make it a reality. It would also probably require reform (and more complexity) to Distribution Network Use of System (DUoS) and transmission network use of system (TNUoS) charging to better reflect the value of local balancing for the rest of the network. Such activity is fully consistent and should be expected with the envisaged transition of DNOs to Distribution Service Operators (DSOs), offering a range of products and services to various actors and engaging in proactive management of demand and generation beyond the management of the network infrastructure. A lot of the focus in recent years has been on getting suppliers to setup and participate in complex local supply schemes, but it may be more effective to lobby distribution operators to become activists in promoting better arragements which can only benefit them in the long run.

It is also worth noting (again) that smart meters and half-hourly (or even quarter-hourly) settlement are crucial to the success of these schemes. Delays in the introduction of these will require ad hoc solutions which will increase operational and other costs and mitigating some or all of the benefits.

‘Right to local supply?’

The concept of a ‘right to local supply’ was floated by 10:10 and was taken up as part of Jeremy Corbyn’s (second) leadership platform.

It calls for local small scale generation to be allowed to directly contract with local consumers (think people sharing the same sub-station) to supply electricity, something that is difficult if not impossible under current regulation. Campaigning for such a ‘right’ would provide impetus to change regulation which is currently lagging behind the ambitions of many new entrants to the sector. It would also help overcome objections from existing large energy suppliers who could only lose under such arrangements.

A ‘right to local supply’ isn’t necessarily inconsistent with recognising the supposed costs of embedded generation (as discussed above) either. The suggestion is not that anybody can connect whatever and whenever they like to the distribution network. Generators would still need to comply with connection requirements (G59 etc.) and pay for connection/reinforcement where appropriate (although these costs could also be socialised – rehashing the ‘shallow’ / ‘deep’ connections debate which has taken place in transmission sphere). It would just ensure a level playing field and market access for small generators or groups of generators who want to supply their local community without the need to become full suppliers.

What’s coming up?

The government is about to launch a ‘Call for evidence’ on smart systems and storage. This will deal with many of the regulatory/policy issues above and could help deliver some of the potential in the existing or near future electricity system. Carbon Co-op will be engaging with this and is hosting a one day conference in a few weeks entitled ‘Hacking the Energy System‘ to help formulate a repsonse. All interested parties, including our members, are invited to attend and contribute to a vision of a future low carbon and more democratic energy system. You can find more details and book at the following link:

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“Can we govern the #climate?” #Manchester, 19th October

Professor Harriet Bulkeley, Professor of Geography, Durham University will be giving the SCI Seminar on the 19 October 2016, entitled ‘Can We Govern the Climate?’. The seminar will be held in Room B5, Alliance Manchester Business School East, between 4.00 – 5.30 pm. Coffee and registration from 3.45 pm.   (It is a free event, open to the public and you do not need to book.)


The recent conclusions of COP21 in Paris appear to offer another hopeful juncture on the long road to reaching a global agreement on how society should respond to climate change. Commitment has been renewed, new goals articulated and, perhaps most surprisingly, a host of other actors have been bought into the multilateral domain to add momentum (and legitimacy) to the on-going international effort. While the impacts and implications of the Paris agreement continue to be poured over, what is clear is that the ideal of a multilateral agreement universally adopted and cascaded into implementation through the public arena has given way to a much more complex political imagination in which actors public and private, local and global jostle for attention and the fate of one seems to be irrevocably bound up with the others. Within the research community the emergence of this domain, what is termed global environmental governance, has been subject to debate for over a decade. A substantial body of work has been created that attests to the role of a range of actors, from cities to corporations, and the multitude of governing arrangements of which they are part in responding to climate change. While we have learnt a great deal about who is now engaging in climate governance, their motivations, interventions and the challenges this poses, I want to suggest that this work remains limited in helping us understand where, how and with what consequences climate governance takes place. Focusing on the actors and institutions involved, we are left with only a partial understanding of the situations, processes, practices and socio-material configurations through which the governing of climate change is (and is not) taking place – in short, we have a limited engagement with how climate governance is being accomplished.

This matters critically for our ability to answer a simple but central question – can we govern the climate? Drawing on research conducted in the UK over the past decade that has sought to examine the ways in which governing climate change is being accomplished in a range of arenas that cut across traditional divides between the state, private sector and community I will make the argument that addressing this question means opening up our analyses of global environmental governance to new conceptual entry points. Understanding whether we can govern the climate means that we ask (again) how governing is configured in relation to climate change. Using examples from the banking, retail, and energy sectors as well as community initiatives and urban responses to climate change, the paper explores the ways in which the governing of climate change is authorised, ordered, articulated and made to matter through distinct socio-material assemblages and diverse publics. Such an approach not only opens up what it might mean to govern climate change, but also the range of sites and practices through which it can and is being accomplished. From this perspective, governing the climate is not a single project, but an unfolding and on-going programme embedded in different economies and societies in multiple ways. Accomplishing climate governance requires not that we seek to harmonise and integrate all such responses, but rather that we enable multiple socially and environmentally progressive transitions to be realised.

Harriet Bulkeley is a Professor of Geography, Durham University. Her research focuses on environmental governance and the politics of climate change, energy and sustainable cities. Her recent books include An Urban Politics of Climate Change (Routledge 2015) and Accomplishing Climate Governance (CUP 2016). She is currently researching the politics and practice of smart grids in the UK, Australia and Sweden and with the JPI UrbanGoverning Urban Sustainability Transitions project working on urban living laboratories. Harriet has undertaken commissioned research for the European Commission, UN-Habitat and the World Bank. In 2014, she was awarded the King Carl XVI Gustaf’s Professorship in Environmental Science and a Visiting Professorship at Lund University, Sweden.

Event location:
Room B5, Manchester Business School East
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“Art, Possibility, Action” workshop in Sheffield, 5th November

This from Manchester artist/activist Jane Lawson-
As part of the project Second Degree Potentias
I am organising
Art l Possibility l Action
is a one-day workshop bringing together artists, activists, campaigners, 
community organisers, students and academics 
to look at how art can help bring other worlds into being. 
It takes place on
Saturday 5th November, 10-5:30
Sheffield Institute of Arts, The Old Post Office Fitzalan Square, Sheffield, S1 2JH
This will be a participatory event focussed on sharing information and ideas and making links. 
It will be facilitated by Rhiannon Westphal from Seeds for Change 
with short presentations from the artist Nina Edge, the writer Mel Evans of Liberate Tate, 
Kerry Morrison of In Situ and James Marriott of Platform.
Come and learn how Nina Edge used art strategies and tools 
to help prevent the demolition of hundreds of homes in the Welsh Streets in Liverpool; 
how Platform highlighted the use of arts and culture to provide 
social capital for oil companies; 
how Liberate Tate shifted public opinion against BP’s sponsorship of the Tate; 
and how In Situ breathed life into a derelict mill in Pendle. 
This event is for those who want to change the world with their art, 
and those who want to find out how art can help them change the world. 
It aims to bring people together and help them find kindred spirits and potential collaborators; 
to suggest creative tools for community organisers and campaigners; 
to look at the differences between making political art and making art politically, 
or between being an art activist and an activist artist; 
to share ideas and information about making work that has an effect 
beyond the confines of the gallery; 
to look at what artists and art strategies can offer to campaigns; 
to find out how we can work together to create beautiful
inspiring visions of the future;
to think about art in the service of life.
The event costs £6 including refreshments (£3 concessions, free to Sheffield Hallam students); 
Part of the 2016 Festival of Debate
Please share with anyone you think may be interested!


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Upcoming Event: #Climate film showing in #Manchester #fracking

Josh “Gasland” Fox will be in Manchester showing his newest film, “How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things that Climate Can’t Change” next week. Josh will be screening his film at Odeon Manchester Printworks on October 13th and will host a question and answer session with the audience. You can visit to get all the details. Josh also has a video message for London that you can share social media to let your members know about his visit.

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Fracking event, #Manchester, 12th October

From here
12 October 2016 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Where: Madlab 36-40 Edge St
Manchester M4 1HN UK
Cost: Free


The Manchester Event of the Tour

After years of being pushed back by community efforts to oppose fracking, the extreme energy industry is still pressing ahead with plans to extract shale gas and other unconventional fossil fuels across the UK.

Meanwhile, other fossil fuel extraction sites are still receiving planning permission despite government pledges to phase out fossil fuels in the Paris Agreement made last December 2015.

With commercial-scale fracking sites such as Preston New Road in Lancashire potentially becoming operational soon (decision expected 6 October 2016) Reclaim the Power is teaming up with local campaigners to discuss what strategies and tactics could be most effective to oppose these destructive industries.

We are organising a mobilisation tour with local groups across the UK to discuss:

  • the latest plans from the fracking and coal industries to extract fossil fuels in the UK
  • what is direct action, and how can it be a powerful tactic to help communities achieve change
  • what we can learn from previous direct action campaigns against environmentally destructive campaigns such as the Franklin River Dam campaign and Bentley blockade against fracking in Australia
  • what might direct action against the fossil fuel industry look like here in the UK
  • how we can coordinate our actions to stop these industries in their tracks
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Upcoming event: C02e Zombie climatic metric? #Manchester 13th October

CO2e- the Zombie Climate Metric

Professor Raymond Pierrehumbert, University of Oxford

c02ezombieThursday 13th October (room C21, Pariser Building, Sackville Street) at 4.00pm.  Please note the change of venue from the usual Tyndall seminars room!

Anthropogenic greenhouse gases vary in the two dimensional space of atmospheric lifetime and radiative efficiency, but ever since the IPCC First Assessment Report, various metrics have come into use in a (largely fruitless) attempt to characterize the  mix of emitted gases by a single metric, generally phrased in terms of “equivalent CO2” or CO2e.  All of these metrics have serious shortcomings, but the flaws of the most widely used metric — CO2e based on Global Warming Potential — are particularly bad and lead to perverse incentives when incorporated in emissions targets, taxes or trading scheme. In particular, the metric severely overestimates the importance of mitigation of short-term climate pollution like methane or HFC.

In this talk, I will go through some case studies illustrating problems with CO2e, and point to better ways of evaluating the climate impact of a mix of gases.  I will also discuss the problems arising from the fact that most of the COP21 INDC targets were phrased in terms of CO2e, without further specification as to how the target would be achieved.  Generally speaking, so far as climate protection goes the only near term SLCP mitigation that needs to be encouraged are measures of very low or negative cost, but policy vehicles which incentivize such measures without displacing more important CO2 mitigation are very difficult to formulate.


The seminar will take place in room C21, in the Pariser Building on Sackville Street– number 12 on the map here-

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“Hacking the Energy System” #Manchester 4th November

A one day conference of discussion and collaboration on future energy system opportunities, innovation and change.

When: 10.30am-5pm, Friday 4th November 2016
Where: Great Hall, Sackville Street Building (former UMIST Campus), University of Manchester

Booking a ticket is essential for attendance.

Discounts are available for early bird orders and individuals and community energy organisations. To request a bursary contact:

Keywords: energy efficiency, battery storage, aggregation, demand side response, Community Owned Aggregation, smart meters, open source, smart grid, smart cities
Attendance from: Local Authorities, Energy Retail Companies, Community Energy organisations, academics, grid organisations, start ups, technology startup companies

The energy system is changing fast, with traditional roles starting to blend, mix and reshape; driven by:

* Ever more ambitious carbon reduction targets
* Increasing amounts of distributed generation
* New technologies in the fields of battery storage, electric vehicles, local generation, electrified heat, smart meters and grid
* A proliferation of new entrants in to energy retailing including municipal energy companies
* A broad based community energy sector, increasingly looking for new business models including direct supply to local people

Against this backdrop the governance and regulatory environment has been slow to change in particular in the fields of generation and energy efficiency.

Convened by community energy organisation Carbon Co-op in collaboration with the University of Manchester, this one day conference is an opportunity for key players within energy system to discuss the change, challenges and opportunities ahead. The aim of the conference is to share knowledge and experience, catalyse new collaborations and document keys ‘asks’ from the sector around regulatory change.

The event will be followed by the Manchester launch of Nobel Grid, a European-wide smart grids project of which Carbon Co-op and University of Manchester are partners.


Confirmed speakers listed – more to follow

Introduction to the day & Nobel Grid
* Jonathan Atkinson, Carbon Co-op
* Teresa Chilton, Manchester Energy: University of Manchester

10-11am Challenges and opportunities ahead: setting the scene
* Matt Fawcett, Carbon Co-op
* Electricity North West

11.15-12.45 New business models within the energy system
* Mark Atherton, Greater Manchester Low Carbon Hub, Greater Manchester Combined Authority
* Simon Minett, Managing Director, Challoch Energy
* Ben Aylott, Carbon Co-op

11.15-12.45 UK Energy Policy – where are we heading?
* Marianne Heaslip, architect, URBED
* Mary Gillie, Energy Local
* Emilia Mellville, Buro Happold

12.45-13.45 LUNCH

13.45-15.00 Technological change and the energy system – opportunities and challenges
* Steve Cox, Electricity North West
* Mary Gillie, Energy Local

13.45-15.00 Democratising of the energy system – municipal and community energy
* Julian Packer, Low Carbon Investment Director, Greater Manchester Combined Authority
* Alan Simpson, Independent Advisor on Energy and Climate Change
* Emma Bridge, Community Energy England

15.15-16.30 Plenary session: what lies ahead for the UK energy system?
* Steve Cox, Electricity North West
* Matt Fawcett, Carbon Co-op
* Alan Simpson, Independent Advisor on Energy and Climate Change

—Conference Ends—

17.00 Nobel Grid Manchester Test Site – Public Launch reception

Supported by Nobel Grid, University of Manchester, Electricity North West and Community Energy England

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