Amy recently joined Locogen as a Renewable Energy Technician. Prior to joining the team, Amy was deeply involved in research as well as working alongside numerous Non-Governmental Organisations. During her first few months, she has been working on shared loop heat pump networks alongside Dan Gates in our Glasgow office. Here, Amy shares her passion for community energy systems and her excitement about their future both locally and internationally.
Tell us why you got into renewables?
I grew up only 10 minutes from Whitelee Wind Farm and used to walk my dog around it at weekends. Even now, I can see it from my office on a clear day. The windfarm is invaluable to my community: it’s a hub for cyclists, dog walkers and runners, as well as an educational centre and has the best coffee with a view. When I left for university, I was shcoked to discover that some people were against projects like this. I want more outdoorspeople like myself to embrace these changes- welcoming renewable installations as evidence of us making amends with the earth. I got into renewables, so I could solidify and communicate my views more effectively, and I love finding myself in passionate debates about their necessity and their impacts.
I also have a background in international development, specifically regarding clean energy access in developing communities. It’s no secret that community scale projects are always the most sustainable if implemented in the right way- and successful projects are apparent all over the developing world. I’d like to see Scotland taking some of the approaches that these communities do, altering the way they interact with energy, becoming aware of the demand, and generally more involved in the project running, such that community projects here see the same successes.
What most excites you?
Microgrids are my passion- stemming from my belief that community systems are the key to increasing renewable penetration globally. I previously worked on the Eigg Microgrid looking at integrating heat into the system, and the statistics showing the imbalance of renewable heat caught my attention. Furthermore, one of my co-researchers at the time was from Norway and spoke highly of heat pumps as a solution in such climates. If heat pumps can be fuelled by a renewable electricity system, such as a microgrid, it would reduce the use of gas and oil for heating.
When I first disucssed the shared heat network, I realised this was exactly that- a heat microgrid but displacing fossil fuel intensive heat supplies. I anticipate these two system types working together as building blocks to larger, modular grids with higher renewable penetration.
What are the benefits to community-scale ventures?
Community systems will not only allow for an increased renewable share, they will empower communities. If the community is more involved, the project is more likely to succeed. Furthermore, by effectively engaging the locals, people will be more aware of their energy use.
What have you learned so far?
So far, I’ve realised many similarities between the shared loop heat network and microgrid networks. The key reason that microgrids succeed or fail is due to the communities’ participation- this is mirrored in the deployment of shared loop heat networks. I hope to bring my research of microgrid mishaps to facilitate the uptake of shared loop heat networks from a community perspective.
How do you see your role evolving?
Ultimately, I would like to be involved in optimising an effective community-focussed business model for rural and island communities in Scotland, both in microgrids and shared heat networks. This will have to be communicable and adaptable, and effectively allow smooth, efficient running of Locogen in future community-scale ventures. By being effective developers of these kinds of systems, Locogen may go on to influence international markets, and ultimately contribute to sustainable international development in the energy sector.
How do you see things changing in your area of the industry?
I am interested in the concept of evolutionary electrification- essentially modular systems that build first by interconnecting households with their own energy systems, to form a community microgrid system, which will eventually grow to work alongside the utility grid as a ‘virtual-power-plant’.
In the developed world, instead of investing in new power plants, investments could be made in these virutal power plants. By investing in a community scheme, the community will be able to build a microgrid which will ultimately produce and store renewable generation and, when necessary, export this to the national grid. Similarly, if generation at the utility level exceeds demand, the community microgrids may be able to soak up the excess. With more systems like this, we may be able to move away from centralised power.
In the developing world, the era of centralised generation can potentially be leapfrogged, where microgrids will be the core energy networks. These may act as in the developed world- as virtual power plants; they may interconnect to each other trading between systems, or they may remain autonomous and inslanded, growing in a modular fashion as community population grows.