The supply of reliable, sustainable and affordable energy to urban areas and cities is key to their long term success and prosperity. Before the introduction of the National Grid, many municipalities provided energy to local customers in the same way they provided clean water, sanitation and public health services as a part of their social obligation. To take one example of many, from 1896 until 1969, Islington Council ran a coal fired plant in Eden Grove, Holloway.
Now, councils are once again now starting to play a bigger part of the UK energy system and are thus emulating the role they played in earlier times.
The main driver in this trend is the requirement to reduce our carbon emissions resulting from the production of electricity and heat. This has recently led to the rapid growth in new technologies which are more carbon efficient than the traditional large methods of producing energy for our cities (typically large coal fired power stations for the production of electricity and natural gas fired boilers for the production of heat). These new technologies are collectively known as ‘Decentralised Generation’ (DG) and include: solar powered Photo Voltaic (PV) panels, wind turbines and hydro powered water turbines for the production of low carbon electricity; gas or biomass fuelled Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants for the production of both electricity and heat; and large scale electricity driven heat pumps.
Electricity generation technologies can be connected directly to the electricity grid or alternatively connected to council owned buildings by a private wire networks. Heat generation technologies are best connected to district heating networks which in turn can deliver heat to dwellings, commercial sites, as well as publically owned buildings.
For local authorities and councils located in urban areas, local generation of energy can provide a number of key benefits:
1.The nature of the new energy technologies allows councils to reduce their carbon emissions resulting from council owned properties – particularly social housing, schools, council offices, sports centres etc.
2.It enables councils to reduce their energy consumption therefore reduce costs. Councils spend over £1bn a year on energy (3% of their total spend) and these new methods of generation are more efficient is comparison to older technologies.
3.It enables councils to reduce the occurrence of fuel poverty of their housing tenants by allowing them to buy heat and electricity at a lower cost.
4.It enables councils to generate revenue. Councils can sell energy to raise money to pay for public services and, if this is positioned smartly, spur green economic development, creating a new generation of good jobs in the sustainability sector.
5.Running a local generation plant creates local jobs for the surrounding communities.
6.It builds additional resilience into the energy network by locating energy generation assets closer to the end users.
It goes without saying that these schemes require an initial outlay of funds that may be too much for many local authorities to bear. However, councils have a number of options to raise the finance necessary to invest in energy infrastructure. These include the use of local authority bonds, local authority pension funds, the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) as well as the Green Investment Bank. Crowd funding platforms such as Abundance and the Trillion Fund present another option.
Funding is also available via the European Union. Bristol for example has secured £2.5m of technical assistance funding under the European Investment Bank’s European Local Assistance (ELENA) programme to develop investment programmes in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
Islington Council is once again acting as an electricity producer and reaping the benefits. Ramboll is currently working with Islington Bunhill in central London. This is a DG scheme, built in 2012, providing heating to a district heating scheme which in turn is connected to over 800 apartments. The heat is currently provided by a gas fired CHP which is also supplying electricity to the local gird. The scheme is now being extended to supply additional heat to 500 more dwellings. The additional heat is being generated by both heat pumps and CHP plants. By utilising new green technologies and taking inspiration from our Victorian ancestors, Islington is looking forward to a greener, cheaper, locally driven power supply.