The Oxfordshire project pioneering the future of electricity

Local Energy Oxfordshire trialling how to make renewables work for everyone

The government has made a legally binding commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, which requires us to transition our electricity generation to zero-carbon sources by 2035.

Meeting this commitment will require a fundamental change in how we generate electricity, heat our homes, and power our journeys. This shift from huge continuously operating power stations to widely distributed variable sources of power alongside battery and other storage is the most profound transformation of the energy system since the National Grid.

It needs a whole new ‘smart grid’ infrastructure, balancing and shifting supply and demand to keep them matched on both short and long timescales, with EVs and heat pumps expected to double or treble electricity demand in a very short space of time.

Leading the way on that is Local Energy Oxfordshire (Project LEO), which is one of the UK’s most ambitious, wide-ranging and innovative renewable energy trials.

Oxfordshire County Council is involved in the project alongside project lead Scottish and Southern Electricity Network (SSEN), social enterprise Low Carbon Hub, the University of Oxford, Oxford City Council, Oxford Brookes University, and commercial partners Piclo, Nuvve, EDF R&D and Origami Energy. The project is part funded by Innovate UK.

Oxfordshire County Council’s central role is to develop a new energy mapping and planning tool, in collaboration with Oxford Brookes University. Having been developed within LEO, the mapping tool will support strategic planning for the transition to net zero local energy systems, in Oxfordshire and across the UK. The council’s new administration has pledged to make putting action to tackle climate change at the heart of all of its work.

Councillor Pete Sudbury, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Climate Change Delivery and Environment, said: “This is a brilliant project. Oxfordshire is leading the way to a future energy system the whole UK will need by the early 2030s. It is inspiring to see so many community groups, organisations and businesses come together to work on these trials, laying the foundations for an electricity system delivering reliable, cheap renewable power, 24/7.”

On Tuesday 19 October, a fully electric double-decker bus, bound for the COP26 summit in Glasgow, pulled into Oxford city centre on the first stop of SSEN’s ‘Road to Renewables' nationwide tour to showcase some of the most innovative clean energy projects across the UK. The bus was welcomed by project representatives including the Oxford Bus Company, which took part in the first Project LEO trial involving battery storage at its Cowley depot.

Phil Southall, managing director of Oxford Bus Company, said: “Oxford is world famous for its innovation and the city is currently working really hard to help achieve net zero, not just for our own city but also to help inform similar efforts worldwide. We are really proud to have played a part in Project LEO and are focused on supporting the city in its ambitious decarbonisation plans.”

Critical to the success of Project LEO is the involvement of local communities in a series of Smart and Fair Neighbourhood (SFN) trials. Project leaders are working with five communities to explore how smart technology and new commercial models can create opportunities for a local energy marketplace in a fair and equitable way.

The five communities are:

  • Eynsham Smart and Fair Futures SFN, which is developing a ‘Zero Carbon Energy Action Plan’ for the Eynsham primary substation area plus a plan for its long-term governance.
  • Deddington and Duns Tew SFN which is looking at how the installation of heat pumps and smart monitoring can help decarbonise rural, off-gas communities and how energy efficiency measures can be installed in households under planning constraints.
  • Osney Island SFN in Oxford, which is looking at how densely populated areas can support EV ownership and use, including for people who don't have their own EV.
  • Rose Hill SFN in Oxford, which is looking at how a largely residential community with several energy assets, including battery storage, can change energy use patterns, to balance the grid locally and benefit the local community.
  • Westmill SFN, near Watchfield, which is looking at how the existing solar and onshore wind farms could link with battery storage to participate in local flexibility markets.

The two-year trials involve the setting up and testing of local, low carbon energy supplies using market mechanisms and smart technology, testing technical and commercial innovation. Organisers want to learn what sorts of benefits or returns – financial or otherwise – could motivate people to participate in the new energy system.

The ultimate aim is to identify options that are technically and commercially viable as well as desirable, as these will be crucial for it to become self-sustaining.

Melanie Bryce, SSEN’s Oxfordshire programme director, said: “Project LEO has a key role in helping us understand how smart local energy systems and renewable generation can be used to support the UK’s carbon zero aspirations. Our trials in Oxfordshire are helping us to turn these ambitions into actions.”

More information is available on the Project LEO website.

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