New global smart grid partnership launched to unlock local solutions to climate change

Electricity distribution companies from the UK, Australia, Italy, and Japan have joined forces to revolutionise and support communities to engage with electricity grids of the future. Launching at COP26, the University of Oxford-led initiative in cooperation with Enel Foundation will bring together electricity networks and community energy groups, scientists and practioners from across the world to remove barriers to delivering net zero at a local level.

Founding Partners Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) Distribution, Ausgrid and the Enel Group, through the research partner Enel Foundation, have joined with the University of Oxford to launch the International Community for Local Smart Grids (ICLSG). This initiative will see community energy groups, electricity networks and researchers share key learnings from innovation projects, facilitate discussions around challenges and support a collaborative transition to a decarbonised future.

Electricity networks, and the shift to smart grids, will be fundamental in achieving a secure, cost-effective, net zero future, and in realising the ambitions of COP26. The first-of-its-kind five-year knowledge sharing partnership will explore the relationship between communities and how they engage with smart grids from Oxford to Rome, Sydney to Tokyo.

Chris Burchell, Managing Director of SSEN Distribution, said:

“Achieving net zero is a global challenge that will be delivered locally through people and their communities. Electricity networks have a critical enabling role in making opportunities accessible and easy to understand. From ensuring electric vehicles can connect, to supporting the electrification of heating, to helping customers become electricity generators of their own; we’re planning now for how we’ll power communities to decarbonise in a smart, secure and fair manner at a time they need and wish to.

“Whilst project partners experience different climates and cultures, we are facing shared challenges and as we’ll see at COP26, the only way to tackle the climate emergency and take action is through collaboration.

“The International Community for Local Smart Grids will take the lessons we are each learning locally and share these globally and I’m incredibly excited to be working with Ausgrid and the Enel Foundation alongside other partners to deliver a truly innovative approach to help the communities we serve access their net zero futures.”

The partnership will be launched to a global audience at the UK Presidency Pavilion at COP26.

Community energy groups will have a critical role in the partnership, guiding and informing discussions to ensure the challenges and opportunities discussed reflect lived experience. The successful delivery of smart grids hinges on the ability of households and businesses to participate. Key Project LEO partner, and leading UK community energy social enterprise, the Low Carbon Hub is the founding community member of the ICLSG. Based in Oxford, it will be joined by community energy participants, to be announced in 2022. 

Japan’s TEPCO Power Grid is the first Network Partner to join the ICLSG, demonstrating the partnership is global in breadth and local in focus.

Realising global climate targets will require a fundamental shift in how homes are heated and cooled, how journeys are powered, and how communities interact with the energy system that serves them. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has forecast that in the UK alone this will lead to a trebling of demand on electricity networks by 2050.

To support this shift electricity networks are investing and innovating to deliver smart grids to support households using, generating, and altering their energy usage to save money, reduce their carbon footprint and support energy system resilience.

Richard Gross, CEO of Ausgrid, said: 

“We have joined the International Community for Local Smart Grids so we can collaborate with some of the best minds in the world to develop innovative, sustainable and affordable solutions for our customers.

“It is clear that our climate is changing. We have more extreme weather events more often like the devastating 2020 bushfires. It’s up to us to work together to reach net zero as soon as possible.

“At Ausgrid we’re privileged to service a pristine part of the world. From Sydney’s beautiful beaches through to the lush forests and farmlands in the Hunter Valley and Central Coast. Our goal as an organisation is to help ensure our children, and our children’s children can continue to enjoy this unique environment.

“Transitioning customers to net zero through use of Smart Grids allows technologies like solar PV, community batteries, or electric vehicles to be used in a coordinated, sustainable and affordable way.”

Different locations are facing different challenges at different times; Ausgrid is currently investing in local batteries to support a significant increase in solar panels, whilst SSEN is exploring how to cost-effectively manage a rapid increase in electric vehicle ownership in densely populated cities. This partnership will facilitate the sharing of key learnings, whilst the University of Oxford will undertake original research into shared challenges and opportunities in delivering net zero locally.

Mr Antonio Cammisecra, Head of Enel Global Infrastructure and Networks and Enel Foundation Board Member, said: 

“Reliable and flexible smart grids are key to accelerating the energy transition, as they play a central role in contributing to the decarbonization and electrification targets needed to achieve a net-zero future. To secure a fair transition, Distribution System Operators are transforming their infrastructure into inclusive and participatory platforms, fostering engagement and interaction with all stakeholders.

“Through Enel Foundation, research partner of the International Community for Local Smart Grids initiative, the Enel Group is proud to share its vision with distinguished international players, collaborating with them and sharing industry and regulatory best practices. Strong cooperation will be essential to unlock opportunities for communities and stakeholders who will play a more relevant role in the energy economy, in terms of innovative business models, services and shared value.”

Barbara Hammond MBE, CEO, Low Carbon Hub said:

"As we transition to a zero-carbon energy system, the changes required will be as much about people and the way they interact with it as it is about technology. That's why we need zero carbon energy systems that are not just digitally smart, but people smart too.

“Variations in local geographies, communities and the capacities of local networks will mean that zero carbon energy solutions will be as varied as the communities they serve. By working together, we can prioritise solutions that are welcomed by local communities because they are designed to meet local needs.

“Grounding the network in the real world, working with real communities, is crucial to ensuring that we create an energy system that is fair. Fair in terms of who pays, who gets to benefit, and which ensures that no one is left behind."

Professor Malcolm McCulloch, University of Oxford, said:

“Communities and distribution networks are the unsung heroes of the decarbonization challenge. Most of the difficult challenges in decarbonising mobility, heating and increase cooling requirements are addressed by these groups. Oxford University is excited to be able to bring together a global partnership focused on sharing the learnings and best practices in providing a smart, resilient and just transition.”

SSEN Distribution, Ausgrid, Enel, Low Carbon Hub and the University of Oxford will participate at an event on the 2nd November at COP26 to announce the partnership, and explore its aims, ambitions and the role of communities and smart grids in enabling a net zero future.