You may not have noticed but the UK energy market is changing and has been changing for a number of years. One change which is likely to have a significant impact is the introduction of smart cities.

Smart cities are not just a concept. They are already happening in the UK and most cities and towns of a certain size are either already involved or considering getting involved. London, Bristol, Nottingham and Peterborough have all made public announcements about the moves they are making or have already made. There are many more who are working on this but are not yet ready to make any announcements.

Why are they doing this? Very simply, they are concerned that the existing system will not guarantee them sufficient supply of energy to let their local economies grow. In some cases energy supply is already a major bottleneck and correcting this using the traditional route of more copper in the ground can cost many millions, which is passed on to local homes and businesses in the form of taxes.

So what is a ‘smart city’? There is no one single definition at present but in simple terms it brings the power of the internet to energy networks within a city. Real time data allows decisions to be automated which improve the quality of life for all and reduce overall energy use at the same time. This is why smart meters are so important.

One feature of a smart city, for example, could be the approach that London is already taking with Transport For London (TFL) looking to contract with local combined heat and power plants belonging to industrial companies to take their excess power. This allows those companies to make better use of their assets, reduces grid use by promoting local consumption of local generation, offers a better price to the company than it can get from selling its electricity to the energy companies and a better price to TFL than it can get from buying from the energy companies.

An example closer to home could be small scale generators with Inspirit Chargers selling their excess electricity to their local council or local supermarket, in much the same way as TFL is working with industrial companies, but on a smaller and even more local scale.

In theory this could be done with renewable energy such as solar PV but critically the renewable technologies lack control. Whilst there is no cost to the sunlight which solar PV uses to generate electricity, the timing tends to coincide with the lowest demand for electricity and hence the lowest value for that electricity. The Inspirit Charger, in common with other microCHP appliances, generates in response to heat, which is easy to store. The timing of peak heat demand tends to reflect peak electricity demand, making the electricity from an Inspirit Charger much more valuable than electricity from solar PV panels.

This means that, with some intelligent controls, microCHP can respond to peaks in demand for electricity and help to keep those peak costs low. Sometimes that demand will be limited to the business or building in which the Inspirit Charger is installed, whereas at other times being part of a wider community will be more advantageous.

It’s not just about the cost of electricity, either. Those supply bottlenecks we mentioned earlier can also be alleviated in this grid connection upgrades.

When thousands of microCHP owners work together through an aggregator or local energy company (e.g. Robin Hood Energy is run by Nottingham Council) then the impact can be tremendous. To give you an idea of scale, one million Inspirit Chargers could avoid the need for a centralised power station the size of Hinckley Point C, together with the many millions of pounds in grid reinforcement which would otherwise be needed.

The “internetification” of energy is inevitable. And microCHP is a key building block.