Distributed Energy can power a revolution

Nathan Sanders, Managing Director SSE Distributed Energy 

SSE is rightly thinking big when it comes to playing its part in tackling climate change and becoming a truly low carbon energy company of the future. But good things come in all shapes and sizes and I believe that our newly created Distributed Energy [DE] business in Enterprise will also have a major say in this agenda.

People often ask me what Distributed Energy actually means? Well if you want the textbook definition then look no further than the World Alliance for Decentralised Energy which defines DE as: “electricity production at or near the point of use, irrespective of size, technology or fuel used – both off -grid and on-grid.”

In other words, the days of selling units of power or fuel to an often remote, and nearly always passive, customer will no longer be the only way we can do things. In fact what we’re seeing out there is the emergence of a user-led energy system that allows energy users themselves to play an active role in maintaining a low carbon, secure and affordable power system.

And it is precisely this need that Enterprise’s newly formed Distributed Energy business has been designed to meet; so that we can help both potential and current customers gain competitive advantage from energy, via delivering intelligent end-to-end energy solutions.

So what kinds of things am I talking about? Probably the one that grabs the most headlines is Electric Vehicle infrastructure. As we seek to decarbonise transport we’re going to need a lot of charging points to power all those green buses and green cars and we have built up significant expertise in this field already with for example the infrastructure we installed at Waterloo bus depot that charges buses overnight so they can serve Londoners in the day. As batteries become ‘the new oil’ then we can go a step further and design two-way charging EV facilities so that you can power back as well as take power out from the Grid.

Likewise you’ll hear a lot about ‘Smart Cities,’ if you’ve not already. In its simplest form this can be considered as two steps. First, we use connectivity to increase the availability of the data that can be used to better understand and hence improve services. Second, we use this data and connectivity to totally redefine services and how they are delivered, breaking out of existing internal silos. In support of this we are deploying digital platforms that bring in sensor and device data from across a region, city or estate to help improve existing services such as road gritting and/or launch new services such as assisted living. We are also developing new energy management platforms that complement our existing energy heritage and allow us to support our customers in the transition to zero carbon.

We have a number of fantastic opportunities in the pipeline which we hope we’ll be able to use to showcase to progressive civic leaders the opportunities that exist for those prepared to be smart when it comes to planning towns and cities.

The arrival of more energy produced from renewable sources will help us hit climate change targets but it also presents a big challenge for the Grid which will need to be serviced in a different way. This is also where Distributed Energy comes in; because it can help with a system that is fully connected and balanced thanks to energy that is generated locally and even stored locally too to be deployed when required.

Thanks to Demand Side Response energy users can also gain income from reducing or even increasing energy consumption at times when the Grid demands it, with new technology also now having the capacity to allow energy users to respond to these changes in demand quickly and easily, without putting security of supply at risk.

And finally a word on the Internet. I’m no millennial, but even I have had my eyes opened by the possibilities that we can create for customers by harnessing energy data and creating services that might previously have been unheard of. You only have to look at the way such brands as Airbnb and Uber have transformed their markets by disrupting, even subverting traditional service models, so that the customer really is king.

In order to bring all this data on stream we need good communications and broadband/Wi-Fi. Leading the way on this has been our newly JV-ed SSE Telecoms business which has used innovation to service our congested city centres by installing fibre infrastructure in London’s Victorian sewers to solve a very modern day communications problem.

Distributed energy sits at the heart of a revolution that will, I believe, transform the way we consume power and it’s why a very exciting future beckons for our newly formed DE business that will be at the heart of what Enterprise is about in future.