Creative research for Smart Local Energy System

ENGIE are currently leading a £3 million Innovate UK consortium to design a Smart Local Energy System (SLES) for the Staffordshire town of Rugeley.

The system will provide cheaper, cleaner and more sustainable energy for the community, combined with the flexibility of a smart grid to allow greater local renewable energy generation and storage.

Researchers at Keele University, in partnership with New Victoria Borderlines and Chase Community Solar, are leading on a work package focussing on embedding user-centric perspectives within the design of the SLES.

Crucially, the principles of 'user-centric' design within the project ensure that the Rugeley community is both equipped with educational tools to engage with the project and also provide the opportunities to steer the designs of the SLES, covering an array of components, including sustainable mobility, housing retrofit and energy markets.

Central to the success of accomplishing this is the use of 'cultural animation' techniques. Keele and the New Victoria Borderlines, through CASIC, are drawing upon several years of experience in designing such workshops, which are due to begin in October 2020. Such techniques will be utilised in a variety of ways:

  • The creative, participatory nature of cultural animation techniques will facilitate inclusivity within the project, providing opportunities for any individuals to take part in a workshop and ensure their views are captured, irrespective of their perceived 'knowledge' of the subject at hand. In this way, participants recognise their experiential embeddedness within an energy system, as well as the crucial role they play as both a consumer and potential producer of energy, regardless of their self-perceived 'energy literacy'.
  • Similarly, the techniques used within the workshops help to break down some of the complex components of an energy system into lay language. This helps to improve the community's understanding of energy systems and subsequently empowers the local community to take control of the decision making within their community, to understand their local energy demands and become proactive in both promoting the sustainability agenda and reducing carbon emissions at the local level.
  • The cultural animation workshops, in conjunction with the governance of the project, bring key project implementers, local community gatekeepers, businesses and residents together, helping to provide a framework through which to facilitate communication and engagement within the community. In this way, the workshops help facilitate social justice and improve social interaction within the community."

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