British Utility Allows Businesses to Buy "Local" Renewable Energy

CC BY 2.0. Tony Webster

We all know that environmentalists can get very worked up about their "food miles", but what about the distance your electricity travels before you use it? One of the UK's leading 100% green energy suppliers, Good Energy, is rolling out a system for peer-to-peer trading of local, renewable energy between businesses and clean energy generators in their area.

I'll be honest, my initial reaction was who cares? As long as my purchases are funding renewable energy somewhere, it seemed to me that the CO2 savings would be largely the same—and adding capabilities for local micromanagement of the grid might be more complication than we need. As is occasionally the case, however, it appears I was missing the point.

The idea behind this initiative—a collaboration between London-based tech company Open Utility and Good Energy—is to create greater transparency and autonomy in how renewable energy is priced and sold. James Johnston, Open Utility CEO and co‐founder, puts it this way:

“Open Utility believe peer‐to‐peer local energy matching could unlock billions of pounds of additional revenue for renewable generation technologies in Great Britain and overseas, heralding an age of decentralised and clean electricity. And now, following the release of our six‐month trial we are in a perfect position to maximise the benefit from the smart meter rollout to 30 million households and businesses across Wales, Scotland and England by the end of 2020 alongside the recognition by Ofgem that it is in consumers’ interests to be settled against their half‐hourly consumption data.”

But why would a utility business like Good Energy want to get in on the game? Aren't they innovating themselves out of business. It appears their role is as facilitator and guarantor—purchasing any excess energy and making up for any shortfalls with its 100% renewable supply. Juliet Davenport, Good Energy CEO and founder, describes it as a logical extension of what Good Energy was doing already:

“Good Energy’s vision is of an energy system where control is in the hands of people, harnessing the awesome power of the UK’s natural resources, and electricity is generated by the communities who use it. The Piclo trial has provided a glimpse of what a future powered purely by renewables could look like, with everything from rooftop solar to community wind turbines playing a role”.

Who knew? The utility industry really is changing. It will be interesting to see how regulators react.