Energy crisis: Peer-to-peer renewable trading and flexibility market offers for British homes scaled up

Both technologies purport to help households save on their electricity bills. Stock images

UrbanChain, which operates a peer-to-peer (P2P) electricity exchange market, has today (14 July) confirmed that 3,000 homes have signed up to use its services. The organisation has partnered with 100% renewable electricity firm Rebel Energy to serve the homes.

Through the platform, households are able to order electricity directly from generators to meet their needs. They receive information on where the electricity comes from and how it is priced via a tamper-proof audit trail enabled by blockchain. Electricity is sourced from solar, wind and hydro generation facilities, prioritising sourcing in the local region for the buyer, supplemented by projects elsewhere in the UK.

Homes are also able to sell any electricity they self-generate or any excess electricity, in the case that their order is larger than their electricity demand. Urbanchain offers a Virtual Power Plant (VPP) model to help facilitate this energy offtake.

Homes are participating in the P2P platform, which uses AI as well as blockchain technologies, from across the UK. Key locations include London, Manchester, Birmingham and South-West England as well as parts of Wales and Scotland.

There have been a number of smaller-scale P2P energy trading trials and schemes across the UK in recent years, in communities including Orkney and West Suffolk. However, UrbanChain has described the growth of its platform as “landmark” in terms of the number of homes and other buildings signed up and the fact that they are so dispersed across the UK.

UrbanChain’s Somayeh Taheri said the model is likely to prove increasingly popular with customers looking to weather the energy price crisis and with national policymaking efforts on energy increasingly focused on energy security.

Taheri said: “Green energy, up until now, has always been affected by ups and downs in the gas market. That’s because renewables are intermittent and green energy is fed into the wholesale market before customers buy it back at much higher prices. This model has fundamentally remained the same and has continued to see consumers hit with rising bills.”

This point has recently been made by a number of influential speakers in the UK’s green economy, including outgoing Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister Boris Johnson. At last month’s G7 Summit in Germany, Johnson told the BBC: “People are being charged for their electricity prices on the basis of the top marginal gas price, and that is frankly ludicrous,” said Johnson. “We need to get rid of that system and we need to reform our energy markets as they have done in other European countries. That is one of the ways, by reforming the market, by changing the way things work, you can get prices down.”

The Government’s plans for reform, in the first instance, are likely to be brought in through the Energy Security Bill. The Bill was introduced to Parliament last week and will put in place much of the legislation and regulation promised in April’s Energy Security Strategy. With Johnson’s departure, and with the Bill containing some controversial aspects, commentators have told the public to expect slow passage of the Bill.

Flex appeal

In other news, the UK’s biggest electricity distributor, UK Power Networks, has posted success with a smart electric vehicle (EV) charging trial that enabled homes with EVs to access the UK’s energy flexibility market. The model on offer during the trial will, therefore, be rolled out more widely.

Called ‘Shift’, the trial involved more than 2,500 domestic electricity customers across the UK, gaging their EV charging habits and their willingness to change them to participate in the UK’s flexibility market by using smart charging that enables charging when grid demand and carbon intensity is lower.

OVO-owned intelligent energy platform provider Kaluza, Octopus Energy and EV.Energy participated in the 12-month programme alongside UK Power Networks.

The trial found that the main barrier to the uptake of smart charging for EVs was the perception that customers’ mobility needs would not be met. However, looking at charging habits at the start of the trial, it was found that the average motorist kept their EVs plugged in for more than five times the length of time needed to meet their charging needs, making smart charging overnight a feasible option for most people.

When consumers were made aware of the behaviour changes they’d need to make to reduce their charging costs and the demand on the grid – and provided with smart charging technology to enable these changes – EV charging demand during peak hours among the participants dropped. UK Power Networks recorded an 82% reduction in EV charging demand between 6pm and 9pm during the trial, as a median daily average.

UK Power Networks has stated that the learnings from Shift have already been integrated into its flexibility tenders and that it will soon roll the Shift model out more widely.

EV.Energy’s head of grid and data services William Goldsmith noted that scaling smart charging, at present, “can only be done by engaging and incentivising EV drivers to take part”.

This engagement may well be easier amid the current energy price crisis, with homes keen to save on road fuel and on electricity bills. Last month, the Government’s new regulations on smart charging came into force, mandating charging point manufacturers and installers to ensure that their technologies offer smart charging functionality.


Comments (2)

  1. Charlie says:

    Peer to peer transactions for renewable electricity sounds a great idea and would theoretically allow trade outside of wholesale prices that are pegged to the dollar and subject to currency fluctuation.

    However, relying on blockchain for secure encrypted tracing arguably risks undermining the green credentials of renewable electricity.

    Blockchain (an immutable distributed ledger) is hugely energy intensive, which creates two scenarios in this situation:
    1. If the energy used in utilising a blockchain methodology comes from non renewable sources, it adds a fossil fuel carbon footprint to the distribution of renewables.
    2. If the energy used in utilising a blockchain methodology comes from a renewable source, it uses up a chunk of the available renewable electricity – driving up cost and potentially putting it at a disadvantage to non renewable sources.

    The uncomfortable truth is that blockchain requires vast data centres consuming large amounts of energy to enable transactions. Sadly, the mere act of facilitating the transaction will use energy that would otherwise not be used…

  2. Richard Phillips says:

    Hugely clever systems for overcoming difficulties in a present system, are, usually quite complex and finally cost the end used more.
    Just the way of the world.
    Richard Phillips

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