Thomas Brulport on Self-Consumption of Renewable Energy

Thomas Brulport recently joined Locogen for a Renewable Energy Engineering Internship. During his time with us he has been working on projects for the French market, alongside Locogen SAS Managing Director, Cédric Gerbier, in Locogen’s Edinburgh Headquarters. Here, Thomas shares some details of his work on self-consumption of renewable energy produced in the community. 

Tell us why you got into renewables and what most excites you? 

I am from a small village of 160 inhabitants called Lomont sur Crête in the North-East of France, not far from the Swiss border. When I was a boy, I vividly remember seeing a wind farm being constructed a few miles away. Since then, my interest in renewables has grown as I focused my studies and my career path on the industry. 

Currently, I am studying for a double master’s degree at the French engineering school, ‘Arts et Métiers Paristech’, although this year I had the opportuntity to do my MSc in Renewable Energy at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. During my stay, I kept in contact with Cédric, the Managing Director of Locogen SAS, whom I met when working for another renewable energy company in France. He then offered me the chance to work in Locogen’s Edinburgh office on a Renewable Engineering Internship. 

With the cost of solar and wind energy rapidly decreasing, most people can recognise that it is an exciting time to work in renewables. However, what really interests me is the development of self-consumption where those involved in producing the electricity directly benefit by consuming it. I am convinced that self-consumption of renewable energy will play a large role in the energy transition by involving citizens in the process to produce their own electricity. 

What are you currently working on? 

The project I’m currently working on for both my master’s dissertation and Locogen, is a feasibility study. The research is focused on how to enhance and repurpose a former landfill site in a Northern French city by using renewable energy. Currently, there are proposals to install a solar plant on this landfill, which conventionally would then provide electricity for the grid. However, most solar projects are developed in the South of France because of the competitive Feed-in Tariff (FiT) process, where the lowest cost generation wins the contract. Those in the North do not often reach the best MWh price to attract the FiT. Hence we are considering different options to consume the electricity within the local community. 

For me, this project was of interest because I could develop my knowledge on renewable energy self-consumption as well as further understand hydrogen use in transport as an alternative to traditional fuel. In addition, this project allowed me to be part of an inspiring and innovative company, which enabled me to enhance my knowledge across many different fields and technologies. I am delighted that Locogen is helping me in this process. 

What are the outcomes? 

The main outcome of this project will be to present a pre-feasibility study to the city council displaying the main options to enhance the landfill. 

Currently, six different scenarios have been identified as being plausible and are classified in three different categories: individual self-consumption, individual self-consumption with hydrogen, and collective self-consumption. Hence, I must first analyse the economic and technical feasibility of each scenario to then identify the optimal option. 

What are the benefits this work will bring? 

Firstly, my project will form a foundation on which the city council and Locogen can make decisions about which project is worth developing. It is very exciting to think that my work may be the catalyst for an innovative project that could then provide a practical example highlighting an instance of energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables. 

Secondly, to produce the best quality work, I am carrying out several sub-studies examining the external environment. For instance, I have considered the legal frame of self-consumption in France, grid stabilisation mechanisms in France, and European and national subsidies available to develop innovation. 

Some key findings about self-consumption? 

It became clear during this project that collective self-consumption is not yet ready to be developed on a large scale due to the legal and economic constraints on the French electricity grid. In fact, there are only a few collective self-consumption projects active or in-development within France due to these restrictions. 

In addition, after several simulations, it has been confirmed that it is possible to generate enough hydrogen by electrolysis to power four hydrogen buses from a mid-sized solar plant. This highlights the potential cities have to be self-sufficient within their energy consumption, taking control of the fuel supply chain, whilst also making a positive environmental impact. 

How do you see things changing in your area of the industry? 

In France, self-consumption is not yet well developed. By the end of 2017, only 20,000 households were recorded as self-consumers (or prosumers, a mix between producer and active consumer). This is a very small amount compared to our European neighbours, such as Belgium with 380,000 households, the UK with 750,000 households, or Germany with more than 1.5 million. Having said this, new legislation is making self-consumption of renewable energy less strict in France and this should aid the development of this local energy model in the next few years. 

At the same time, the French government announced plans to help fund the hydrogen sector. A sum of 100 million euros will be distributed during a five-year period to encourage the establishment of this rising industry in France, something which is very promising for a potential transition into clean transportation. These are exciting times indeed for this sector of the renewable energy industry and I’m looking forward to being a part of it. 

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