The steep rise in household energy costs over the past year, further exacerbated by the crisis in Ukraine, will see the cost of living in the UK rise substantially over the coming months forcing many people to make difficult decisions about whether to heat their homes or feed their family.
At the University of Birmingham (UoB) and Tyseley Energy Park (TEP) we are working together in East Birmingham - one of the most deprived areas of the country already disproportionally impacted by COVID and the financial crisis – with the aim of being part of the solution to the current and future challenges with the UK’s energy system. We believe that innovative collaborations like ours are needed to ensure local communities are financial, social and environmental beneficiaries of energy innovation and research, and academic/industrial/business partnerships.
Central to our approach is facilitation of a co-creation group of key stakeholders from the public sector, industry, business and academia, that meets quarterly to share ideas, and develop projects and systems thinking that can be applied at the city scale. Through these meetings we have developed policy and technology solutions that have the key ingredients necessary to support a fair transition to a zero-carbon energy system. An example of the technology solutions being explored include management of Smart Local Area Energy Systems - capable of improving asset monitoring and controllability to minimise the costs of multi-energy smart energy systems as well as interoperability of cross-coupled energy sectors. We believe that this type of technology and data-driven solution will accelerate both business innovation towards net zero energy systems in the region, as well as helping citizens be resilient to energy and fuel price rises by increasing availability and independency of alternative, green energy in the city.
UoB and TEP are also supporting Birmingham City Council’s vision for the wider Tyseley Environmental Enterprise District, which is looking to brand the area as the Clean Energy Quarter for the City, delivering an exemplary sustainable working and living environment. The vision explores options for optimising assets in the area for use by local businesses and residents. We are also looking at energy as a service model for the local community as well as heat and energy efficiency programme for local homes and businesses. In addition, we are working collaboratively with Birmingham City Council to deliver a first of a kind low and zero carbon re-fuelling facility that will support market expansion into low and zero carbon fuels, help the city meet its decarbonisation objectives as well as supporting the clean air zone.
Alongside technology developments, we are also engaging with the local community to ensure technologies and policy solutions are co-designed with the intended beneficiaries. As part of a growing programme of engagement we are working with local cooperative Places in Common and the Active Wellbeing Society, as well as local community groups on a project funded by the Cadent Foundation. This initiative will deliver a digital and in person Community Learning Platform, called the Climate Room to engage with communities across East Birmingham on climate change, decarbonisation of heating, a fair transition and neighbourhood planning.David Horsfall & Dr Emily Prestwood
Tyseley Energy Park and University of Birmingham are also playing an important role supporting and initiating asset creation and development in the region. Last year the Birmingham Energy Innovation Centre opened on TEP creating a centre for technology and policy innovation, and University of Birmingham Campus in East Birmingham. The centre is being used for outreach and knowledge sharing, as well as research application and business incubation. The planned National Centre for Decarbonisation of Heat will establish new programmes to allow Britain to clear the industrial and commercial roadblocks to the rapid growth of promising technologies and business models. In turn creating tens of thousands of skilled jobs in the region. We are also working in partnership to deliver an ERDF project to rehabilitate green and blue space and create a community commons and active travel corridor in the TEP area.
Both Tyseley Energy Park and University of Birmingham are committed to stimulating innovation, demonstrating new technologies and creating commercially viable energy system solutions that help local citizens whilst reducing CO2 emissions - as well as creating a legacy where there is much increased engagement with and employment in low and zero carbon industries in Birmingham. We would like to put forward our approach as an exemplar of how to ensure there is a real-life, beneficially impact of research and innovation on the communities in which we’re based. Any feedback or debate on our approach is always welcome.
David Horsfall and Dr Emily Prestwood