Midlands Smart Energy: Review and Future Possibilities

This report sets out the benefits to the Midlands Engine region from an accelerated shift to a smart energy system and why, with the right innovation and support mechanisms, this provides a net-benefit to energy consumers and businesses in the region and beyond.

Never has there been so much focus on energy. Soaring energy prices and the associated costs for citizens both directly through energy bills and indirectly through increased national borrowing will have an economic impact on a scale which is not so dissimilar to Covid. Coupled with the long-term ambition to reach net zero by 2050 as enshrined in UK legislation, the pressures could not be higher. Energy is, of course, not just electricity and energy is pervasive. Transport and heat are two sectors which currently exploit liquid or gaseous fuels.

In the fullness of time these sectors will transition to being predominantly electric with the consequence that there will be major investments into new electricity generation, e.g., wind, solar and nuclear, upgrades to and new electricity grids, and energy efficiency programmes, e.g., thermal insulation for homes. This transition will need new ways of managing the energy system beyond the mechanisms we have in place today. Particularly, as the removal of large coal and gas plants changes the stability of the electricity grid, and the introduction of large amounts of renewable generation increases the intermittency of available energy and therefore the need for storage.

In parallel with this energy transition there is an ongoing revolution in computing and artificial intelligence. The pervasive development of machine learning algorithms means that modern high performance computing capability can process huge amounts of data to “learn” how to implement solutions. In tandem the move to digital rather than analogue systems means that there is an extraordinary amount of digitized data for machine learning to process. The opportunities through enhanced access to data are already making their presence felt to the consumer with innovative companies offering tariffs that are sensitive to the variations in the market price. The transition to a smart energy system in the next two decades is a chance to invest to ensure that the energy system is fit for the 21st century.

View the report: Smart Energy - An Energy System for the 21st Century


Research Theme 3

Regional Innovation Ecosystem


The Smart Energy focus within the Green Growth Action Plan included aims to support the development of digital infrastructure, which delivers decarbonisation, whilst driving coordination, support for SMEs and households for energy monitoring, optimisation and smart technology installation, regional data collection and green skills training.  The present report aims to advance the thinking by examining the smart energy area in more detail and identify clear actions for the region.

The present review addresses the following objectives:

1: Develop a definition of smart energy, or smart energy system, which can be applied across the region. 

2:  Identify what smart energy systems are in place in the Midlands Region 

3:  Explore the challenges related to smart energy deployment, including any potential barriers

4: Evaluate the economic impacts of a smart energy system

The Team

Martin Freer, Director Birmingham Energy Institute, University of Birmingham

Annum Rafique, City-REDI, University of Birmingham 

Simon Collinson, Director of WMREDI and City-REDI, University of Birmingham 

Grant Wilson, Head of Energy Data Group, University of Birmingham 

Rebecca Riley, City-REDI, University of Birmingham 

Kelvin Humphreys, City-REDI, University of Birmingham 

Alice Pugh, City-REDI, University of Birmingham 

Reen Blake, City-REDI, University of Birmingham  

George Bramley, City-REDI, University of Birmingham 

Joy Aloor, Siemens 

Faye Bowser, Siemens

Eldar Naghiyev, Siemens

Faye MacAnulla, Energy Research Accelerator 

Iain Styles, Director of the Data Science Institute, University of Birmingham 

Information for Policy Makers

This report sets out the benefits to the Midlands Engine region from an accelerated shift to a smart energy system and why, with the right innovation and support mechanisms, this provides a net-benefit to energy consumers and businesses in the region and beyond. The net-zero transition is underpinned by a low-carbon energy system, and smarter energy systems provide the basis of achieving a secure, resilient energy system at a lower cost than would otherwise be the case.

In order for the Midlands to become an exemplar for smart energy, the region will need to work with key regional organisations to build a smart energy system based on implementing projects and programmes. This will support the UK's energy systems transition by maximising the benefit that smart systems offer, not only for the Midlands itself but also for the UK as a whole. It is concluded from the present work that there is a credible basis for the Midlands taking a leading role in this sector.

 We have reviewed selected smart energy activities in England to understand where the Midlands region stands as well as reviewed different smart energy interventions which scaled-up can be beneficial to the region. By reviewing current regional smart energy activities and influenced by the regional stakeholder interviews, we identified challenges to smart energy and suggested actions the Midlands Engine can enact to support the development.

Get in touch

Project lead contact details:

Martin Freer - Director Birmingham Energy Institute, University of Birmingham

Annum Rafique

 Project Support contact details:

Annum Rafique


WMREDI is funded by Research England and the WMREDI partnership

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