Bristol Smart Energy City Collaboration

Taking action to realise the benefits of smart energy data

Project duration: April 2015 ongoing

Like many cities, Bristol has an aspiration to be a ‘smart energy city’. That means having the capabilities and capacity to make the most of new opportunities to capture, analyse and act on smart energy data for the benefit of people and businesses across the city.

But the gulf between current practice – typically small-scale technical trials – and this smart energy future is enormous. And the complexities involved in its realisation, particularly in a traditionally centralised energy system, are often overlooked or downplayed.

In April 2015 we set up the Bristol Smart Energy City Collaboration, an interdisciplinary group to address these challenges and map out the steps which need to be taken for Bristol to realise its aspiration – and then help ensure those steps are taken. This includes:

  • Developing a deep understanding of the complex web of technical, commercial, regulatory and social dimensions of a city-wide smart energy system.
  • A clear sense of the skills, capabilities and facilities required to achieve this vision.
  • Planning for how these might be established and organised.

CSE is the convenor of the Collaboration which involves ten expert organisations from across the private, public and voluntary sectors: Bristol City Council, Arup, Demand Logic, DNV-GL, Knowle West Media Centre, KPMG, Secure Group, University of Bristol Computer Science and Estates departments and Western Power Distribution.

The principal goal of the Collaboration is to establish a workable approach to overcoming the challenges associated with a city-wide energy system, and to understand how such a system can be put to work in the public interest, rather than being narrowly defined by commercial, technical or policy constraints.

The Collaboration has identified five objectives associated with a city-wide smart energy system:

  • Curbing energy waste and peak demand (which embeds a related challenge to use smart energy data to help manage network constraints).
  • Enhancing the value of renewable electricity generated in or near the city (which links to a related challenge of improving local system balancing or ‘power matching’ within the city).
  • Using smart energy data and associated interventions to tackle cold homes/fuel poverty and the associated health and social challenges.
  • Capturing the economic benefits of a smarter energy city for the city (i.e. its people and businesses).
  • Developing a ‘fine-grain’ understanding of the energy system to enhance planning and operational capabilities at city level.

The Collaboration has taken a holistic approach to understanding how to meet these objectives and the 2015 report, Towards a Smart Energy City: mapping a path for Bristolset out the intention of the Collaboration to 'walk right around the issue' and consider it from a number of different dimensions.

These dimensions create a framework of interconnected conditions which need to be met, more or less simultaneously and all at city scale, for the smart energy city aspiration to be realised.

The five dimensions are:

  • Technical (Energy systems): There needs to be technical potential to realise the smart energy goal – such as for reducing or shifting energy demand.
  • Technical (IT): The city needs to be able to capture, manage and analyse smart data and deploy this in the public interest.
  • Commercial: There needs to be a viable business model for delivering smart energy solutions.
  • Regulatory/policy: The national policies, regulations and market rules need to enable city-wide action and ensure it is rewarded fairly for the value it creates.
  • Social/cultural: There needs to be public and business engagement and participation, and at a level that gives a city-wide initiative the edge over other national or commercial initiatives.

This is summarised in the diagram below.

The report concluded that a meaningful Bristol Smart Energy City will probably only be realised if co-ordinated, integrated, and ambitious initiatives in the city can demonstrate enough benefit to disrupt the current incumbent-dominated market trajectory and regulatory framework. The report also presented 'roadmaps' for achieving each of the potential benefits, specifying the actions that would need to be taken across the various dimensions in order to achieve these benefits. You can find out more about the roadmaps here.

Many of the first steps the Collaboration took were focused on building experience such as encouraging local businesses to share efforts to apply existing smart energy services and developing a local service to make sure the nationally mandated smart meter roll-out works for Bristol’s households. Other steps focused on changing the local context such as stimulating public conversations about peak demand and local renewable energy generation.

Alongside the report we opened up a publicly accessible wiki which collated all of the information which CSE and the Collaboration had reviewed and considered in coming to its initial findings. You can read our CEO Simon Roberts' reflections on the first year of the Collaboration here.

Since then the Collaborators have been progressing a number of different smart energy initiatives which feature in the ‘first next steps', coming together periodically as the Collaboration to review activities, share market intelligence and identify opportunities for future collaboration and initiative-taking.

As CSE we have been leading the ‘first next steps’ associated with:

  • Exploring how energy suppliers’ smart metre roll-out activities might be co-ordinated at city level to enable decent public engagement.
  • Developing techniques to use smart energy data to improve support for vulnerable households and tackle fuel poverty.
  • Drawing up potential approaches to the data analytics and system architectures required for a city-wide approach (with University of Bristol).
  • Establishing a Smart Energy Enterprise Cluster for the West of England to enable the region’s businesses to be at the forefront of what is becoming a huge global smart energy market. 

The Collaboration continues to draw on the expert knowledge of the participating organisations to address the challenges and opportunities presented by smart energy.

Our work on the Bristol Smart Energy City Collaboration has been supported by three of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts through their Climate Change Collaboration.


We have also published two research papers, in partnership with Sustainability First, investigating how smart energy data can best be put to work in the public interest. An overview of this research is available here.


Photo: David, reproduced under creative common

For further information contact:

Simon Roberts OBE | 0117 934 1441

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