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It's a challenging time for UK energy – and Scotland has its own unique set of circumstances to tackle.
The country's Local Energy Challenge Fund aims to bring forward demonstration projects that could future-proof energy supplies for the benefit of local people. From the world's first hydrogen refuse truck (pictured above) to using algae in energy management, it seems to show that the best response is to challenge inventive thinking.
Laura Campbell, who manages the project for Local Energy Scotland, said: “Local, low carbon energy is definitely the way ahead for Scotland. There are so many energy issues, but the more models we test now, the more we've got to pick from in the future.
“Areas can have very different circumstances. Some projects will work really well in one area, but maybe not work at all in another. But we've got to have options. It's all about matching local demand with renewable energy.”
The programme, which uses Scottish Government money to fund comprehensive programmes of installations, followed by a year's monitoring, is now in its second year. The first phase saw 114 applications whittled down to a final four, after being put through a rigorous process which included a face-to-face Dragon's Den-style showdown with experts from government, the distribution network, universities and local enterprises.
Those that passed the detailed scrutiny included Sunamp Ltd and the EASTHEAT project, which took an innovative approach to tackling fuel poverty. Heat battery technology was installed in the homes of social housing tenants in Edinburgh and the Lothians, which stored electricity from local renewables, and provided access to cheaper heating and hot water.
The ACCESS project on Mull aims to match, in real-time, renewable energy supply from a community hydro system to meet the heating needs of residents. Those using the hydroelectricity become entitled to rebates. It aims to prove that viable grid connections can be viable for smaller generators, and Campbell hopes it’s a concept that will be rolled out to other communities in Scotland.
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Making and using hydrogen is a common feature amongst successful projects. Levenmouth Community Energy Project involves scaling up facilities at the existing Hydrogen Office – providing a much-needed injection of innovation.
Wind and solar power drives the electrolysis which delivers the hydrogen, which it’s hoped will fuel the largest fleet of hydrogen vehicles in the UK. Council involvement in the project has already spawned the world's first dual-fuel hydrogen refuse trucks.
Campbell said: “There's a possibility here to scale up and become a real world class demonstrator. The new solar PV will mean the office is not reliant on grid energy to make the hydrogen at all. What's more, there's a microgrid installed in the business park for managing things at a very local level, and involvement from Toshiba to create a smart controller, which makes decisions about how best to use the energy. It's really high-tech stuff.”
So too in Orkney, where the brilliantly-named Orkney Surf 'n' Turf is getting involved in electrolysis to make hydrogen too – while managing some awkward local energy issues. Campbell explained:
“Wind turbines on the outlying island of Eday are producing more power than their grid connections allow, so are regularly getting turned off. So some way of using this wind energy was needed.
“This project combines that energy with that generated by a nearby tidal turbine to make hydrogen, which is then transported to Kirkwall on the main island to be used in the harbour area, and on berthed ships. It's the first step to using hydrogen on ships at sea, which would be a major breakthrough.”
To help make this step forward, part of the next phase is coming up with training programmes that could make hydrogen-fuelled marine vessels a reality. Campbell added:
“Project partner ITM Power, in collaboration with others, has also recently been awarded over five million Euros from an EU project exploring hydrogen fuel cells, to build on the work in Orkney.”
If anything, the recently-announced latest phase of the Challenge Fund has seen an even higher level of creativity and ambition. The nine new funded projects include a farm looking to develop a new biofuel from used animal bedding, and a programme looking at using surplus electricity from local renewable sources to create useful products from algae – essentially using it as a living energy management tool.
Another project in the Outer Hebrides takes the salmon fishing industry as a starting point for developing circular economy principles, again with hydrogen at the heart. Then there's Tower Power Dumbiedykes in Edinburgh - a project that all those trying to tackle fuel poverty should have their eyes on. Campbell said:
“Those running the project will go around tower blocks in the area, getting residents to sign up to have all their energy aggregated and traded as one industrial user rather than separate domestic ones. They're confident it can be done, and it will result in cheaper energy for the towers' residents. It's a really interesting idea – and I know that Ofgem are very keen to see how it progresses.”
The changes brought about through this funding stream may not end with simply new ways of managing energy. There is some potential to achieve deeper engagement with local people as well. Campbell added:
“Although the projects are more about making best us of local renewable energy sources, a number of the projects involve making regular visits to householders. That follow-up aspect makes it possible that you can link that to behaviour change as well, further down the line.”