Smart communities: addressing energy’s changing landscape

The energy sector is transforming. Smarter and more society-oriented innovation is at the forefront of efforts to overcome the challenges set by electrification, energy efficiency and decarbonisation. New technologies are seeing electricity become an increasingly dispersed and flexible form of energy, whilst the integration of increasingly complex and diverse generating assets and advanced digital solutions is driving a much more efficient use of resources.   

But what does this transformation mean for us and what does a smart community really look like?  

Consider the Isles of Scilly, this unique archipelago is located 30 miles off the tip of Land’s End in the south west of the UK. With five inhabited islands supporting a permanent population of just over 2,200, the Islands also attract over 100,000 visitors each year. It’s no surprise considering they are one of the most protected landscapes and environments in England.  

However, against this backdrop, the Islands are carbon-intensive. With the highest home energy use in the UK (6,610 KWh per house (2014)) and imported fossil fuels being 40-50% more expensive than on the mainland, the Isles of Scilly rank 8th highest in England for fuel poverty. And, despite having 280 more hours of sunshine on average than London,local renewable energy has historically generated less than 2% of the annual demand for energy. 

In response to these challenges,an island-wide partnership was established in 2015 to implement a set of interconnected projects, with the aim to cut electricity bills by 40%, meet 40% of energy demand through renewables and see 40% of vehicles be low carbon or electric by 2025.  

The partnership brought together the Council of the Isles of Scilly, the Duchy of Cornwall, Tresco and the Islands' Partnership – all collaborating to help residents and businesses move to a lower-carbon economy. The partnership demonstrates that social innovation can be driven from even the smallest communities and go beyond tackling conventional rural infrastructure, such as faster broadband connections, to build tools which help tackle the unique challenges they face.   

Drawing on our experience from a demonstration project on Maui in the Hawaiian Islands that incorporated renewable energy and all-electric vehicle solutions into Maui's electrical grid, Hitachi has led the Smart Energy Islands project, installing our IoT platform to balance electricity demand and supply, and working with two of the UK’s leading smart home technology companies, PassivSystems and Moixa.  

This summer, around 450kW of solar panels were installed on the roofs of council homes, the fire station, a recycling facility and desalination plant, and in a solar garden by the airport, (which is subject to planning consent). One hundred homes (10% of all homes on the islands) are getting home energy management systems, and 10 homes are piloting a variety of smart energy technologies, including smart batteries and air source heat pumps. 

The project has also seen the establishment of a not-for-profit community interest company: the Isles of Scilly Community Venture will sell power generated by the solar panels and recycle the income to reduce electricity bills for all islanders through a special Isles of Scilly energy tariff.   

Delivering a truly community-based approach, the Smart Energy Islands project uses technology to meet the needs of Scilly’s island communities and develop solutions that can be applied everywhere. Size and location are no barrier to innovation – what is important is the foresight to see the positive impacts that will follow; for the environment, for the community and the desire to make a difference.  

Join the discussion on #techUKgreenweek and #GreenGB. To see more blogs like this, please visit the website here.

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