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Smart energy starts at home in Nottingham

In 2015, Nottingham received £5 million of EU Horizon 2020 research funding as one of five lighthouse cities for the Remourban project, to tackle sustainability issues around transport, energy, and ICT

New housing development in Nottingham’s Trent Basin
New housing development in Nottingham’s Trent Basin

In Huawei’s latest UK Smart Cities Index, Nottingham received the Star Award for its energy efforts, with Navigant Research, the analyst company which led the study, calling the city, “a pioneer in new approaches to city energy.”


These new approaches are driven by ambitious 2020 energy targets, which include a 26 per cent reduction in carbon emissions against 2005 levels (already achieved in 2016 and now at 35 per cent) and delivering 20 per cent of the city’s energy from zero or low carbon sources. The city has also committed to 100 per cent green energy by 2050, as part of the UK100 pledge.


Unlike many cities, Nottingham City Council has direct control over much of the city’s infrastructure, transport, and housing stock. This, says Ruth Stallwood, the council’s Marketing Officer for Energy Services, allows the city more autonomy and creativity in how it achieves these targets.


She comments: “Like other cities, we are concerned about energy security, an uncertain future and rising fuel bills. This gives us more control within the city rather than being as dependent on energy markets.”


Examples of initiatives include community energy projects, cutting-edge solar developments, a groundbreaking district heating network, and the use of fuel cell systems. Many of these now serve as test beds and demonstrators for what is possible with energy, not just in Nottingham and the UK but across Europe and the world.


New models for energy


Project SCENe brings together companies along the energy supply chain and academics, working with 120 new homes to demonstrate a new way of providing locally generated heat and electricity.


Technologies deployed include solar panels and ground source heat pumps, as well as a 2 MW Tesla battery at the Blueprint development in Nottingham’s Trent Basin. The aim is to generate renewable energy and deliver services to the National Grid.


Typically systems like this would be too expensive for consumers to invest in themselves and the ROI has not been proven for companies, so the project will demonstrate potential new business models for community energy schemes.


Ashley Walters, Development Manager, Blueprint (the developer for the scheme, a private limited company owned by igloo Regeneration Fund and Nottingham City Council), comments: “This is one of the first examples of a project of this scale on a residential development scheme. The larger the community, the more efficient the system will be. Creating a community-scale system helps to create resilience within the National Grid and helps the community to reduce their personal carbon footprint.”


He adds: “The business model for this system is unlike any currently known in existence and, if successful, will be a model for development across the UK and further afield.”


Towards energy-neutral houses and outcome-focused procurement


In 2015, Nottingham received £5 million of EU Horizon 2020 research funding as one of five lighthouse cities for the Remourban project, to tackle sustainability issues around transport, energy, and ICT. The five demonstrators will trial different urban regeneration models which address their own unique challenges as well as generating broader practical takeaways for other cities.


Work in Nottingham includes: treating over 400 social and private houses with insulation measures to make them warmer and reduce energy bills; demonstrating an ultra-low energy standard on houses so they will need almost no heating; extending the district heating network; piloting low temperature community heating; and testing innovative procurement and finance solutions which make ultra-low energy standards more achievable and reduce reliance on grant funding.


Part of this work is seeing the development of the first prototype ‘Energiesprong’ net-zero energy homes in the UK, an approach pioneered in the Netherlands. Nottingham is starting with a pilot of 10 older homes and retrofitting them with smart energy solutions to make them as close to zero net energy as possible, meaning they generate as much renewable energy as they use. Residents will pay a flat charge for their power.


Emily Braham is head of sustainable energy for Nottingham City Homes, which is overseeing the Energiesprong work. She said: “This could transform the way we make homes more energy efficient, and it will mean our tenants are protected against rising energy prices. It will also make sure that our homes are ready for the zero carbon standards required across the UK by 2050.”


An early finding from the initiative so far, which will be fed back to the other Remourban lighthouse and follower cities, is around procurement. Nottingham City Homes is aiming to drive ethical innovation with an outcome-focused approach based on performance requirements and a fixed price, rather than specifying the materials/finish etc. Bids are for the whole system, rather than an isolated part of it, and energy performance must be guaranteed for at least 30 years.


Braham said: “You put the responsibility very clearly onto the [company that] is designing and building it for the actual performance, not for a theoretical, calculated performance. It has to be monitored and prove itself, and that makes [contractors] approach it in a different way, knowing that they’ve got to deliver it, and not thinking they can walk away.”


She says the approach could also help avoid disasters in the future such as the deadly fire seen in mid-2017 at the Grenfell Tower block of flats in London – one overall contractor will mean there is no uncertainty over responsibility and liability.


Joining the dots


Robin Hood Energy was set up in 2015 and was the first local authority-owned energy company run on a not-for-profit basis since the market was nationalised in 1948.


Gail Scholes, Robin Hood Energy’s CEO, says the company’s approach offers a genuine alternative to the big six energy companies and a “trusted brand”, particularly for the 60 per cent of energy customers who have never switched suppliers.


She says public ownership gives the company a better chance of making a difference to the growing issue of fuel poverty because: “You can join up such a lot of agencies and help customers by signposting them to other agencies. That model changes the mechanism of how we look after vulnerable customers.”

She adds: “And not-for-profit means that, as a business, we don’t pay bonuses to our directors, or shareholders, so you know that any money coming in is going to be used for the better of you, as a customer.


Robin Hood Energy has now started to also provide white-labeled services to other cities, including Leeds and Liverpool.


Smart energy, smart city


To better identify and capitalise on the connections between projects across the city, Nottingham is now focused on documenting an overarching smart city strategy, led by Steven Heales, Employment and Skills Strategy Manager, Nottingham City Council.


He explains that energy and transport will be key focus areas, “then also starting to look at smart housing and smart health, and you can start to look at the interconnection between different initiatives that occur across them."


Another goal of documenting the strategy is to ensure “a strong focus on putting the citizen at the heart of what we do.”


Heales said: “Say we’re doing a smart energy project, or whatever it may be, we need to always make sure we are asking, what does that mean for citizens in the city?”


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