Gas ring

Introducing smart communities: the system for energy efficiency

By: Mike Brogan, Chief Executive of Procure Plus
Published: Thursday, December 4, 2014 - 12:26 GMT Jump to Comments

Over the last few decades, energy consumption has been a widely debated and scrutinised topic across the globe. Both the government and energy companies are continually searching for a solution to the supply challenges facing the UK.

In 2014, Japan's largest public management company NEDO selected Greater Manchester as the location for its Smart Communities development project.

The North West region was chosen as it’s the UK’s largest and fastest growing regional economy, which accompanies a rapidly increasing population. Out of 1.2m households in Greater Manchester, 25 per cent are social homes; nearly 250,000 are classed as ‘fuel poor’, and 95 per cent use gas to heat their home and water supply.

NEDO, through the Smart Communities project, is focusing efforts on Greater Manchester’s social housing stock. They aim to reduce the need for local residents to draw power from the national grid, as well as enabling them to utilise off-peak power at lower tariffs.

The organisation’s ultimate goal with the project is to resolve energy and global environmental issues via research and development, as well as the dissemination of energy, environmental and industrial technologies. With the support of the GMCA, NEDO will eventually adapt Greater Manchester’s domestic energy demand for the benefit of all who live there, in addition to the UK environment.

Through the installation of Smart Communities - areas which use IT to optimise the efficiency and effectiveness of transport, business and healthcare - Greater Manchester can expect dynamic, real time flows of information on energy usage, and improved interaction between suppliers and consumers. The project will see smart meters installed in social housing developments across the combined authority, which will track the peak usage time and distribute the building’s energy levels from alternative sources.

The Smart Communities project will also look to improve the heating systems currently in place in Greater Manchester’s social housing properties. Gas boilers will be replaced with electrical or hybrid heat-pumps, which will be controlled by an aggregated system that balances power supply and demand by using energy from multiple sources.

In order for this project to run seamlessly, NEDO required support on the ground from an organisation that is well versed in the North West economy’s nuances, and with housing companies existing processes. 

Procure Plus was therefore approached to support all the companies involved, including Wigan and Leigh Homes, Northwards Housing and Six Towns Housing, to plan the maintenance programmes and to facilitate research into the current energy measures.

NEDO required a method of monitoring and invoicing that ensured the separate parties could pay for their share in a transparent and auditable manner. The Schemes Plus platform, designed by Procure Plus, was chosen due to its simple project management system, which includes: financial forecasting, order and delivery management and comprehensive reporting.

The development and management of this initiative is positive news for Greater Manchester and the North West. Being involved in NEDO’s global project gives Greater Manchester the opportunity to become more influential in energy efficiency measures for the UK.

It also reflects the increase in interest the combined authority is generating from foreign companies and the potential for future financial investments - not only in the energy sector, but possibly in the housing and business sectors too.

As we move closer to our 2050 carbon reduction targets, the need for action becomes increasingly urgent. Developments such as the NEDO project give the North West a chance to explore alternative energy resources which have yet to be utilised.

The long term benefits presented by the scheme, such as stronger security in our energy assets and the potential to future proof the UK, vastly outweigh the initial costs and installment work. We’ve seen from the Japan Smart Community Alliance that “most nations worldwide are experiencing a significant increase in the integration of distributed energy generation in general, and that the costs associated with renewable distributed generation are decreasing”.

With the project now underway, there is increased potential for the region to use the Smart Communities scheme as a springboard to raise awareness around the potential of alternative technologies. The scheme encourages consumers to move away from using the limited resources of the national grid, in order to relieve some of the pressure on the UK’s energy supply.

Fuel poverty and sustainable solutions are both an increasing concern for the UK. The recent remedies proposed by government, such as the Green Deal, aren’t robust enough to ensure a maintained resolution.

The NEDO scheme has combined the management and tracking of energy, in addition to detailed reporting on its usage, to improve Greater Manchester’s efficiency measures. Although the initiative is still in its infancy, it shows itself to be a viable solution to the UK’s energy issues.

Mike Brogan is Chief Executive of North West social housing regeneration consortium Procure Plus.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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