There is a very high level of fuel poverty in Scotland, particularly in off-grid rural and isolated communities but also in many urban areas with high levels of deprivation. This collaboration between Community Energy Scotland, South Seeds and Carbon Coop is aiming in the long run to tackle fuel poverty through enabling fuel poor households to earn an income through engaging in the energy market and therefore reducing their energy costs.
In the near future, the power companies who are managing the electricity grid will need to match energy supply and energy demand on the local grid in a much closer way over the day and over the year.
They will therefore need energy users to be more flexible on when they use energy – that is, to switch off their appliances when energy is in short supply, switch them on when there is more energy available and (if they have energy storage such as batteries) provide stored energy when the grid needs it to meet high demand. In the energy market this is called ‘flexibility’.
However individual households cannot offer their flexibility to the grid on their own as each household does not have enough flexibility to be of interest to the grid – so householders need their flexibility to be added up with others’ flexibility or ‘aggregated’ before being offered to the grid. This is where our digital platform comes in.
In this pilot project, we are developing a demonstration digital aggregation platform and testing it with 20 households in the southside of Glasgow.
This community owned platform will aggregate all the flexibility that is being offered by the different households and offer this flexibility in a large ‘lump’ to the power company managing the electricity grid, for a fee. The income earned by the community owned aggregator is then shared with the participating households who are signed up on the digital platform – and because it is community owned social enterprise, the householders will get a higher proportion of the income than they would through a commercial aggregator.
We are working with South Seeds, a trusted local organisation, who is taking on the role of the community aggregator. We are visiting the 20 households to test what kind of information they need and the level of income they would find attractive enough before they would sign up to offer flexibility.
We have built the prototype digital aggregation platform which has a section both for the participating households and a section for South Seeds as aggregator. The household section gives information on what flexibility is and how they could earn an income through this. The aggregator section has information on why aggregating flexibility could earn them an income as well as a data collecting tool, where they can enter all the householders’ flexibility data.
We have ran information sessions for households in the southside area, telling them about the changes that are happening in the energy sector, what flexibility is and how householders’ flexibility can be brought together or ‘aggregated’ to sell it to the grid using the digital platform. Through this we have recruited the 20 households who are willing to have a home visit and interview about signing up and a further 3 households who are willing to use the digital platform ‘cold’, on their own.
Staff at South Seeds, including their Energy Officer, have helped test the information and data collecting processes on the digital platform and we have updated both and are now ready to test everything with the 20 households.
We’ve made good progress on getting the digital platform developed and agreeing what information we want to gather from households. The digital platform is up and running with the required functionality for providing information, collecting data and producing reports for the participating households and for the community aggregator. It has been really good that South Seeds has been involved, keeping us grounded in what might work well in a community setting and ensuring that this complex jargon-ridden area of work is kept accessible and relevant to what households might need to know!
As the domestic energy flexibility market is not yet up and running our biggest difficulty has been developing a realistic set of flexibility models, with associated payments, that we can test with households. This is a continuing risk for the project if what we are suggesting turns out not be the models that actually evolve in the future. However, we are being very clear with the householders involved that these are not the final models and that the market is not yet up and running.
The other difficulty we have had is in keeping the information simple and relevant to households. South Seeds has been very helpful in this and we have also been offered support from ShareLab Scotland in accessing communications specialists to provide a fresh eye on the content. We have realised from this how easy it is to misunderstand what we are trying to communicate and the importance of keeping it relevant to the householder rather than to the organisation.
We were also surprised that it was difficult to recruit the required number of households for the test, despite a healthy £100 incentive for each household to participate. We’ve found it’s difficult to recruit to an initiative which is not of immediate and definite benefit to the household – a bit too far off and quite different from what people are used to now without a definite flexibility market set up yet.
We have found the ShareLab approach to working with this project really helpful – supportive while providing resources acting as a ‘critical friend’. It has also been great to have some design input and we love the new Flexible Community Power logo that has been produced for us. Thanks!
We are excited to be at the stage of now starting to test the digital platform and our information with householders! The home visits to the 20 participants will be done during June and July, with follow up phone calls with each household soon after, to discuss their flexibility report. We look forward to getting the feedback from our participants and reviewing what we learn from these interactions. Is the information clear enough? Is flexibility something that they think they might engage in, in the future and how flexible would they be willing to be? What level of incentive would they need to engage them?
We will also be working with South Seeds to see what they think about the aggregation reports they will receive after all the home visits have been carried out. We will review how useful or otherwise they thought the information was, for explaining flexibility to householders and for them as aggregator. They are also going to give us feedback on how we might need to adapt and improve the approach in the future.
We wait to see whether there is enough interest to try this out at a larger scale and take the project forward.