March 2023 saw the end of Project LEO, one of the UK’s most ambitious, wide-ranging and innovative energy trials. Over the four years since its launch, this collaborative project has conducted multiple trials, issued numerous reports and gained vital insight into how a smart and flexible energy system of the future could look like. The project has also studied the infrastructure, markets and regulations that should be put in place to make this flexibility commercially and technically viable. 

While the entire Project was wide-ranging and technically complex in many ways, it can be broken down into three main parts:

  • Creating a viable commercial marketplace for trading energy flexibility so that everyone can benefit from the way we generate, store, and use energy in our homes, businesses, and communities.
  • Testing how our energy systems and networks need to adapt to make the most of the flexibility that can be offered by new renewable technologies and make them ready for the transition to a smart local energy system.
  • Working within communities to see how households, businesses and local institutions can benefit from energy flexibility, both individually and as part of Smart Community Energy Schemes.

At the beginning of the month, we published our final report that set out the findings and recommendations from the Project LEO trials. These trials looked into how electricity system users can play a role in providing flexibility to the network. 

The Final Report is a 32-page document that identifies thirteen key messages for policymakers to support the transition to Net Zero, but highlights five of these as the most important. 

These are:

  1. Local Area Energy Plans are vital to achieving Net Zero

Project LEO has shown how collaborative, Local Area Energy Planning is necessary to get to Net Zero and recommends the development of a body to create the required planning and toolkits and offer advice and guidance for Local Authorities to help achieve this.

  1. Aggregators in the broadest sense are key to enabling flexibility at the grid edge

The report finds that aggregators are essential for plugging the specialist expertise gap enabling flexibility providers who are not ‘energy experts’ to create Smart and Fair Neighbourhoods, flex at the grid edge and organising many Distributed Energy Resources.

  1. Optimisation behind the secondary substation brings a wide range of benefits

Project LEO showed that there is significant potential associated with optimising energy

systems at the local level, rather than relying primarily on the Transmission network to

import and export power.

  1. Investment in data and digital is key to enabling more efficient and smarter local area networks

Project LEO has shown that strategic investment in the network can deliver significant benefits for the energy network and local communities and this investment is essential to meet Net Zero timelines. However, it needs to be justified on the basis of robust data, mapping and planning processes.

  1. Innovation funding is improving but must adapt to help deliver Net Zero

Funding for innovation projects is vital to create the required major systems change. However future funding must adapt and become more flexible to allow and encourage cross-sectoral investment and also encourage the application of capital and revenue R&D investment to accelerate, at scale, real-world innovation that delivers a benchmark for rapid change to deliver Net Zero ambitions.

While the Final Report signals the end of Project LEO for our team and a range of partner organsations, it really is just the beginning of the development of a smarter and more flexible energy system of the future. 

Each of the thirteen key learnings and recommendations highlighted in our report will help shape the blueprint for the energy system of the future. They will give the energy industry, local authorities, suppliers and communities insight into what we need to put in place in order to develop flexible energy services to meet our energy needs for a low-carbon, fair and sustainable future. In this way, we can view Project LEO as a success and we very much look forward to seeing these recommendations and learnings implemented.