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New international partnership puts communities and smart grids at the heart of net zero

First introduced at COP26, the International Community for Local Smart Grids (ICLSG) will undertake ground-breaking research that will be informed by the learnings and expertise of the partners.

Today marks the official launch of an international knowledge-sharing partnership of distribution network operators and community energy enterprises and organisations, convened by the University of Oxford and its Research Partner Enel Foundation and supported by the co-founders Ausgrid, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks and Low Carbon Hub.

Climate change is an international challenge that demands local solutions. The partners announced today are drawn from Great Britain, Italy, Japan, New Zealand and Australia and are committed to securing a fair, cost-effective transition to net zero. To achieve that, the ICLSG believes that the relationship between communities and smart grids must be championed.

For electricity distribution network operators, the net zero transition means supporting the electrification of vehicles and heating, plus new requirements for homes and businesses who may wish to generate electricity. Networks must be smart and adapt at unprecedented speeds to the new requirements for powering their communities, while ensuring a ‘just transition’ for their customers.

Community energy organisations are rooted in their communities’ priorities for net zero and are working to ensure their solutions work socially, environmentally and financially. They provide a vital bridge to foster understanding of the opportunities and challenges that a transition to a zero-carbon energy system raises.

There are local energy projects happening all over the world. It is essential that we document and share these learnings to pave the way for more projects to come. By working together to find real world, collaborative solutions that address the specific needs of different communities across the globe, we hope to unlock the mass participation that is required to galvanise a successful transition.

The combination of expertise that partners bring will be enhanced and developed by a five-year research programme, that will explore how smart grids can support net zero technologies in a way that is good for people and good for the planet.

The partnership has recently appointed engineer Dr Katherine Collett as Senior Researcher. She brings expertise from previous projects on vehicle-to-grid, forecasting electric vehicle uptake, readiness for grid edge technologies, and decarbonising public transport in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Professor Malcolm McCulloch who will be leading the research and who is Head of the Energy and Power Group, part of the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford, said:

'From Oxford to Waikato and from Sydney to Tokyo, the climates and regulatory structures within which electricity distribution networks and communities operate may be very different, but all our partners are tackling the same problems of how to innovate and cooperate as the world turns to zero carbon technologies.

'Our research will draw in learnings from partners’ smart grid and community trials and will identify and develop the tools needed to deliver a just transition to net zero.'

Briony O’Shea, Chair of the Citizens Own Renewable Energy Network Australia, said:

'The Citizens Own Renewable Energy Network Australia is looking forward to participating in this partnership which will allow us to contribute to research priorities and learn from community energy groups and network operators around the world. This will be of great value to our local renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.'

TEPCO Power Grid President Yoshinori Kaneko said:

'We are excited to be part of the international partnership among network operators to share Japanese experiences and learn from best practices around the world to achieve carbon neutrality and strengthen the resilience of power grids to better serve our customers.'

As New Zealand’s industry partner representative, Waikato-based electricity distributor WEL Networks Chief Executive Garth Dibley said:

'The electricity industry is heading into a period of unprecedented change driven largely by the necessity to meet international carbon reduction requirements to ensure reasonable outcomes for the environment. We are looking forward to working with the ICLSG to collaboratively find innovative ways to provide a strong, safe, efficient and reliable supply of electricity as we continue to support New Zealand’s Net Zero goal of becoming 100% renewable by 2030.'

The Smart future