Smart Cornwall – Towards A Local Smart Energy Ecosystem

Putting communities in control of their energy and creating new jobs underlies an innovative smart energy initiative in southern England.
Published: Thu 09 Oct 2014

Normally smart grids are the realm of utilities, but not in this case in which a local government has taken the initiative to gather together the necessary stakeholders to ‘deliver a world class energy ecosystem’.

Smart Cornwall, being undertaken under the aegis of Cornwall Council, the local authority for the county of Cornwall in southwestern England, along with the Council of the Isles of Scilly, with delivery by the Cornwall Development Company, is a bold initiative to install renewables and smart grid technology locally by 2020.

The vision: “To develop the UK’s first mainland smart energy ecosystem; Pioneering a new energy economy which puts (our) communities in control of their own energy and creates new high value jobs for future generations.”

Other participants in the initiative include the utility Western Power Distribution, the University of Exeter and Falmouth and Plymouth universities, and the national smart grid group SmartGridGB.

Smart Cornwall building blocks

Smart Cornwall is founded on five building blocks.

Engaged communities. Over 30 local energy groups are already active in Cornwall, working with households and businesses to reduce carbon emissions and energy bills and increase local ownership of renewable energy generation. The most established of these, the Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network (WREN) with over 1,000 members has developed a model for a local energy enterprise that could be replicated.

Research and development. Local universities and colleges are undertaking research in the smart energy field. Looking to the future, Smart Cornwall would like to see Europe’s first centre for smart energy research, testing and standards to be established in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, putting the area at the forefront of smart energy technology and skills development.

Technology deployment. Smart energy technologies are already being tested and used. For example, Western Power Distribution is deploying smart grid technology to help make the Isles of Scilly energy self-sufficient. Smart Cornwall is currently working to establish a large-scale smart energy demonstration project and expects other projects to follow.

Business support programme. A network of business support providing skills training, grant and debt funding, superfast broadband support, coaching programmes and support for inward investment, and a bespoke smart energy support team is already in place. Smart Cornwall will pull the strands together to attract multinational smart companies and support local smart energy business development.

Local energy markets. Enabling people to take more control of how they use energy and for the community to retain the economic benefits will be a priority for Smart Cornwall. A working group has been established with key industry players to develop the concept and plan the way forward.

Mix of renewable energies

Supporting these building blocks, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly offer what is claimed an “unrivalled mix of renewable energy resources”. These include possibly the best solar energy resources in UK, enough deep geothermal energy to power Cornwall, extensive on and offshore winds, a long coastline offering significant wave and tidal power, and farming and agricultural industries providing the potential for anaerobic digestion.

The potential is estimated at least 1GW, of which around 5% could be unlocked by 2020 and 45% by 2030.

Commenting on the initiative, Chris Ingram, chair of the Smart Cornwall Steering Group, states: “Between 2015 and 2020 we will focus on delivering a world class smart energy test bed. And by 2020, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly will be established as a centre of smart energy expertise and innovation with a leading position in the global market.”

Benefits of Smart Cornwall

Smart Cornwall is seen to have the potential to drive green growth in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. An independent review by Regen SW found that it could lead to the creation of an estimated over 2,000 new green jobs and 320 new enterprises by 2020 and almost 7,000 new jobs and 920 enterprises by 2030. Gross value added is estimated at £107 million by 2020 and £367 million by 2030.

The initiative will also allow retention of some of the estimated £1.2 billion annual energy spend within Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – £5 million by 2020 rising to £96 million by 2030.

Smart Cornwall next steps

Engineering consultant Arup has been appointed to assist in developing a delivery plan for Smart Cornwall. A key aim is to identify a pipeline of prioritised projects to be delivered over the coming years.

The delivery plan is due to be available in early 2015.