MPs visit key multimillion-pound Oxfordshire project unlocking the UK’s decarbonisation ambitions

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) and Low Carbon Hub hosted the Science and Technology Committee on Wednesday for a tour of Project Local Energy Oxfordshire (LEO), one of the most ambitious, wide-ranging, innovative, and holistic smart grid trials ever conducted in the UK. 

The UK recently became the first G7 country to legislate for a net zero carbon emissions target by 2050. Meeting this target will require significant decarbonisation and cause an increased demand upon the electricity network. Traditionally an increase in demand on the network would require network reinforcement. However, the increase in small-scale renewables and low-carbon technologies is creating opportunities to balance demand on the system, and for households, businesses and communities to earn money through engaging with the new markets created by a smarter and flexible electricity system.

LEO is a £40 million project that has received an award of £13.8m from the UK Government Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, to test electricity network flexibility models and markets across Oxfordshire.  The Project will explore how the growth in local renewables, electric vehicles (EVs), battery storage, vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology and demand side response can be supported by a local, flexible, and responsive electricity grid to ensure value for consumers and opportunities for communities and market providers in Oxfordshire. 

MPs from the Science and Technology Committee visited Osney Lock Hydro, one of the participating projects in LEO, on Wednesday to inform its inquiry ‘Technologies for meeting Clean Growth emissions reductions targets’. The Committee will produce a report this year making a series of recommendations to the Government as to how the new net zero target can be met.

Chair of the Committee Norman Lamb MP said:

“A few weeks ago I found out about this initiative in Oxford and was fascinated to find out more. I think part of the solution of how we decarbonise our whole economy will come down to local action. We need to move away from a reliance on big generating stations and generate a lot of our electricity locally on a small scale. Oxford clearly is leading the way in this nationally and it is immensely impressive – other areas can learn from this.”

Existing constraint on the Oxfordshire local electricity network, combined with progressive attitudes among the local authorities and a thriving community energy scene creates the perfect environment for LEO.

LEO brings together significant local, academic and industry experience and expertise, with partners including SSEN, Low Carbon Hub, University of Oxford and Piclo. Project partners have been brought together to understand the value of new markets, technologies and solutions in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Stewart Reid, Head of Future Networks at SSEN said:

“It was fantastic to welcome the Science and Technology Committee to Oxfordshire. SSEN strongly supports the UK government adopting a net zero target for decarbonisation and we are actively working to better understand how the transition to a low-carbon economy can be managed in a manner that mitigates risks and maximises opportunities. That’s what Project LEO is all about, and I am excited for the benefits that it will deliver to Oxfordshire and beyond.”

Barbara Hammond, Low Carbon Hub CEO said:

“The drive for decarbonisation provides us with the opportunity to change the way individuals interact with our energy system, enabling people to transition from being passive consumers to active energy citizens. We were delighted to be able to welcome the Science and Technology Committee to Oxfordshire to visit the first community owned hydro on the Thames - Osney Lock Hydro. It's a great example of how a local people can work together for the benefit of the local community and global environment.  Through Project LEO we hope to be able to support many more community energy projects and demonstrate it’s possible to meet our energy needs in a way that’s good for people and good for the planet.”

Project LEO will deliver:

  • New markets for flexible energy — accelerating the development of a mature flexible energy market of Distributed Energy Resources that provides solutions to energy needs, constraints and decarbonisation. 
  • New and scalable investment models — for Distributed Energy Resources (DER) that reflect the value of their assets and their flexibility. 
  • An improved understanding of electricity system models - as Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) transition to become Distribution System Operators (DSOs) they will neutrally facilitate the new markets created by a smarter network. LEO allows SSEN to demonstrate how conflicts of interest will be resolved, and the core role for DSOs in the new energy system.
  • Assets for strategic planning— developing the tools needed to make effective and efficient whole-system decisions about the energy ecosystem. 
  • Datasets for research — sharing understanding so the experience can be replicated elsewhere both in the local context but also nationally through the Electricity Networks Association (ENA’s) Open Networks project.
  • A community of skilled people – improving the skill sets of participants and enhancing the social capital of the local energy sector in Oxfordshire with the support of the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and in consort with other bodies based in the region.

 Project LEO participants include:

  • Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) operates and maintains the electricity distribution network for Oxford, and over 3.8 million homes and businesses across central southern England and northern Scotland, the Mull of Kintyre and the Scottish islands. SSEN is already running another ground-breaking initiative, the TRANSITION Project and on Project LEO will test multiple aspects of the DSO model to balance local supply and demand.
  • Low Carbon Hub is a leading social enterprise that will develop and manage a portfolio of local generation and demand projects.
  • University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University, who will collect and analyse data to create a new model for mapping and planning the local energy system.
  • Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council will provide key infrastructure including intelligent street lighting, EV chargers and heat networks.
  • Piclo, which develops software for smart electricity grids and Origami Energy, which provides software solutions to increase value from energy networks, will trial innovative business models, while delivering energy trading, aggregation and flexibility services through their respective platforms.
  • Nuuve is the global leader in vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology and will provide V2G and smart EV chargers.
  • EDF is a gas and electricity supplier, that will offer innovative energy services to customers.