Decentralised Energy

Decentralised energy, also known as distributed energy, refers to the generation of energy in close proximity to where it is used.  The National Planning Policy Framework definition of Decentralised Energy is local renewable and local low-carbon energy sources. In the UK, this trend is gaining momentum as it offers a viable option to increase energy efficiency, reduce costs and carbon emissions, and enhance energy security.

Decentralised energy can be generated in different forms, including small-scale wind turbines, solar panels, biomass boilers, and combined heat and power systems. Community energy projects, where local communities generate and consume their own energy, are also considered a form of decentralised energy. These projects can range from small-scale solar panel installations to more extensive wind turbines or hydroelectric schemes.

What are the benefits of decentralise energy?

The primary benefit of decentralised energy is its ability to reduce energy wastage by generating energy close to where it is needed. This reduces the need to transfer energy over long distances, leading to reduced transmission losses and increased efficiency. Decentralised energy is also more resilient to grid disruptions, such as power outages or severe weather events.

Government Support

The UK government recognises the potential of decentralised energy and has implemented several policies to support its growth. For example, the Renewable Heat Incentive offers financial incentives to households and businesses that install renewable heat technologies like biomass boilers or heat pumps. The Feed-in Tariff provided financial support to small-scale renewable energy generators like homeowners with solar panels until it ended in 2019.

The government has also introduced various initiatives to encourage community energy projects. Although the Community Energy Strategy aimed to have a community energy sector capable of generating 5% of the UK’s energy by 2020, this target was not achieved. Nevertheless, community energy projects remain an essential component of the UK’s energy mix.

Decentralise Energy Examples

A successful example of a community energy project is the Westmill Solar Cooperative, established in 2011 near Swindon. The cooperative owns and operates a 5 MW solar farm, producing enough electricity to power approximately 1,500 homes. The cooperative has over 1,600 members, mostly from the local area, and has provided the community with several benefits, including the creation of a community fund and free solar panels for local schools.

A pioneering decentralised energy scheme local to Planning House is the Seaham Garden Village development which will consist of 750 affordable homes, 750 private homes, a school, shops, and medical and innovation centres. The new development will deliver the UK’s first district heating scheme using mine water.  Which will be supplied with geothermal heat from the Coal Authority’s nearby Dawdon mine water treatment scheme, which treats water abstracted from an extensive network of flooded abandoned coal mines in the area.

Mine heat can be an energy source that is unaffected by external factors, meaning it has a stable price and is not subject to future variations or rises in energy prices.  It is a renewable energy source that also has the potential to have a zero carbon footprint.  The scheme – the result of a collaboration between the Coal Authority, Tolent Construction and Durham County Council. In the current energy crisis it is going to be interesting to see how this scheme develops and the affect it has for energy consumers as well as our journey to net zero.


There are challenges that must be addressed for decentralised energy to be successful. One significant hurdle is the cost of installing and maintaining renewable energy technologies. These technologies can be expensive, primarily for households and businesses with limited budgets.

Another challenge is the issue of grid integration. Decentralised energy can generate energy when it is not needed, such as during periods of low demand. This poses a challenge for grid operators, who must balance supply and demand to ensure grid stability. However, advancements in smart grid technologies are helping to mitigate this challenge, enabling grid operators to manage energy flows more efficiently.

The role of decentralised energy

Decentralised energy has the potential to play a crucial role in the UK’s energy transition, leading to improved energy efficiency, reduced carbon emissions, and increased energy security. Although there are challenges to overcome, the government’s support for decentralised energy and the success of community energy projects indicate a robust demand for this form of energy generation in the UK.

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Decentralised Energy