John Whybrow, Smart Islands Programme Lead, Hitachi
John Whybrow describes Hitachi’s Smart Islands project and how it will transform energy usage on the Isles of Scilly in the UK.
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Read the transcript of John Whybrows’s interview on how the Smart Islands project in the UK will transform energy usage on the Isles of Scilly.Show transcript
Hitachi actually started working on the Isles back in 2014. We were looking for a location and a community to trial our Smart Technologies. Technologies that both move the UK forward in terms of dealing with challenges around infrastructure and energy, but also deliver community benefits.
The islands are 28 miles off the Coast of Cornwall, and they’re quite isolated. Shipping is very expensive, so energy costs there are quite expensive– they rely on electricity for all their heating and cooking and other ways of life. And we were looking for ways of cutting the cost of electricity through more renewables and through smarter management of these renewables.
And the islands became the ideal location for us to work with a community that needed to address those challenges, and that where we could also demonstrate our technology.
As in most projects, we started by understanding more about the islands. We did a number of surveys to understand how people lived on the islands, what the challenges were, how they used energy and transport. Some of the challenges around health of the islanders being 28 miles off the Coast of Cornwall, they’re quite a long way in terms of time and distance to the nearest major hospital.
From that evidence-gathering, we then started formulating with local partners, the council, the Duchy of Cornwall, Prince Charles’ organisation, one of the luxury island resorts called Tresco, and an association of local businesses. We formed a partnership with those organisations and started forming a plan to address some of those challenges.
First on the list was around energy, and so we engaged with the islanders to understand what the challenges around energy were, how we might work with the energy system that is there. They are connected to the mainland with a cable, but they also rely on a backup diesel generator. And because of the cost of alternative fuels, the cost of the use of energy there is the second highest in the UK, after the Orkney Islands according to the 2016 numbers.
So that was the focus of our first project, really, and that’s how the project Smart Energy Islands came about. Part-funded from the European Union, we now looking to deploy more renewable generation on the islands, more storage, and more efficient and intelligent heating systems for space and for hot water. Energy storage in the form of home batteries, and also using electric vehicles ultimately as part of that energy system.
And obviously the end users in all of that are vital. It’s got to be something that works for the islands as well as demonstrating the technology and the benefits that we think it’s going to bring.
Well, the islanders were involved from the start. We ran a series of workshops that Hitachi calls business origami around developing a business process and a system that is integral to a community. And a key element that came out of that was the creation of a community venture on the islands, a not-for-profit organisation that would endure after the projects under the Smart Island programme, and would be the focus of all the assets that were funded or the systems that were installed.
The Isles of Scilly Community Venture will inherit those assets, operate them, and ensure that any benefits are shared within the community. And that was– that really was born about from engagement of the islanders, the community, and the stakeholders there.
Well what we’ve tried to do with those quite ambitious targets is look at the whole system, the whole community, all the infrastructure, and not try to deliver point solutions, but deliver something that works across a multi-utility model, if you like. So although we’ve started with energy, we’re quickly moving onto transport with the electric vehicles, and working with the council, we aim to deploy a fleet of shared electric vehicles that the community can use that also forms part of our energy infrastructure.
And the programme as a whole is now moving on to look at waste and water and other elements. So I think one of the key successes in establishing the partnership and getting these projects moving and attracting funding has been that whole systems thinking.
Not trying to solve just one problem, but thinking about how these problems are interrelated. And that’s key to Hitachi’s process around co-creation of solutions. That they’re not just a technology demonstrator, but deliver social innovation that benefits the customer and the consumer and ultimately society.
So those targets– the 40% targets all by 2025 to increase renewable generation, to reduce the bills to consumers, and to make low carbon transport work on the islands are all part of the programme that is being delivered there in partnership with the community.
One, intelligent in terms of understanding the building that they’re deployed in, whether that’s a home or a business or a warehouse; and two, by working together with other energy systems in the location. We’re working with two UK technology partners – PassivSystems, who specialise in making heating systems intelligent, particularly air source heat pumps; and another company called Moixa Technology who specialise in home energy storage, and also battery storage in electric vehicles.
We’ve deployed some energy systems that work intelligently in the home and are optimised according to what the homeowner or the tenant needs. So through working with an app on their phone or on their tablet device, the users can describe what they want in terms of heating across a day or a week or a month, and the system then takes over and optimises according to the weather outside, the cost of energy, and other factors to deliver that heating within the home, and that delivers a better experience for the homeowner at a lower cost.
The same with the batteries. The battery is there to store energy from solar panels that we’ve installed across 10% of the housing stock on the main island of St. Mary’s. And those batteries will again be intelligent by storing energy when it’s in abundance. And then the second part of the intelligent system is linking all those houses and buildings together.
So thee Isles of Scilly are at the end of a constrained part of the national grid. There’s a lot of solar farms and wind farms already deployed in Cornwall, and that is causing a constraint upon the network there. On a very sunny and windy day, there’s too much renewable energy, the network can’t take it. The Isles of Scilly needed a system to be able to use energy within the islands as a whole and not be restricted according to their constraint on mainland.
So we’re using those homes and those smart heating systems and smart batteries and electric vehicles to store energy when the renewables are producing excess energy that can’t be exported back to the mainland. So by treating the islands as a system as a whole, we’re able to make better use of that locally-produced energy and not have it switched off, and not losing the benefit of that renewable brings.
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Image under licence from iStockPhoto.co.uk, credit AndyRowland