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The importance of equality and boundaries in local energy systems

a framework for local energy systems concepts


The EnergyREV workshop in London last week focused on measuring performance of smart local energy systems. The event was attended by a variety of stakeholders, ranging from academics to utilities and those directly involved with creating local energy systems.

The diversity of attendees allowed for a range of views to be discussed which was critical in creating a whole-system methodology for the challenges and opportunities of local energy systems (LES) to be considered holistically. Yes, the focus is on LES. However, LES are not, and should not be seen in isolation from wider social, economic and energy systems views.

Those in the middle risk losing out

One of the aims of the low carbon energy transition is to ensure greater access to renewable energy which might contribute to reducing energy poverty and creating a more equitable energy system.

Conversations around equity were threaded throughout the workshop. However, one key point stood out; it is those in the ‘middle’ that risk missing out.

The rich can afford the capital costs of renewable energy whilst those with lower incomes are increasingly benefiting from social housing initiatives and community energy schemes. Those who are neither benefiting from social schemes, but equally cannot afford the capital costs privately may be neglected. This social exclusion is compounded if these ‘middle’ people live in rural areas which have less opportunity to become part of a LES.  

For LES to truly develop and be accessible for all, they must be economically viable without the need for government intervention. This is possible if they are able to access multiple value steams, be that ancillary services, time-of-use savings or reduce grid costs. In doing so they allow a wider range of society to engage and be part of LES which will ultimately increase energy equity and inclusion, but also increase the rate of decarbonisation.

Where do you draw the line?

A second observation rests on the idea of boundaries and more specifically where do you draw the boundaries for LES. To understand this question, I believe it is worth looking at it from two perspectives: social and technical. The latter is arguably easier to define.

So, where are the physical boundaries of a LES? Whether they are constrained by a single low voltage grid, a housing development, an industrial park, or a geographical range, the physical limits of a LES can be defined.

The real challenge comes when thinking about the social boundaries. For example, if a LES provides lower cost energy and thus allows people to heat their homes to a more comfortable standard, they are arguably less susceptible to cold and damp related health issues. The consequent reduction in healthcare costs is clearly a positive outcome for LES as well as a benefit to wider society.

We need clarity about definitions

Over the course of the two-day event it was evident that the very definition of LES itself and related concepts was unclear; the discussion would be stopped by simply asking the definition of terms such as self-consumption, reliability or resilience or even values. These are terms that are frequently used with reference to LES yet there is presently no industry wide set of definitions.

It is for this reason that we at Delta-EE began our research into LES by developing a framework for LES concepts (see above) and are planning to publish a set of definitions of LES related terminology, which will be available to our subscribers.

Please get in touch if this is a topic you are interested in.

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