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Enabling innovation

Source: Public Sector Executive Sept/Oct 2012

Geoff Snelson, Milton Keynes Council’s director of strategy, speaks to PSE about progress in establishing itself as a test-bed for innovation in energy efficiency.

PSE talked to Milton Keynes council director of strategy, Geoff Snelson, about the innovation being trialled and tested across the borough to reduce carbon emissions.

Milton Keynes has an overall low-carbon living strategy which looks to develop public and private partnerships to improve energy efficiency. Snelson commented: “I think we’re doing it particularly well.”

One of these key partnerships is with energy company E.ON, who are developing a whole range of projects, including new technology in homes to manage appliance use and biomass boilers to improve sustainability in schools.

Testing ground

Milton Keynes can offer an effective testing ground for such new innovations, due to its ‘youth’, and the relatively relaxed planning rules in place, Snelson said.

He went on: “People find this quite a good place to test and trial technology, because we’re quite a new place and because we’re developing and growing all the time, there’s always the opportunity to try something new.

“I think we’ve got a good reputation for being quite flexible and enabling, so it’s a bit easier to do stuff here. Partly because some of the landownership, because it’s a new place, a lot of the space is actually owned by public agencies.

“So if you want to dig up a road, or run pipes or cables along something, usually the land ownership is pretty straightforward and it’s not as complicated as doing it elsewhere.”

Snelson described a new 800kW biomass boiler which was being launched at Sir Herbert Leon Academy, estimated to save £10,000 a year by replacing existing gas boilers. It will provide a lower-carbon heat source, with over 1.8 million kWh of heat per year. The installation is due for completion in early November and is being carried out in partnership with E.ON.

Human interface

Around Milton Keynes, 75 households are taking part in a project with E.ON and the council, using the latest ‘smart’ home technology, such as appliances and home energy management (HEM) systems. The trial aims to show the benefits of intelligent appliances on energy use in terms of increased control, comfort, convenience and reduced costs.

Thomas Buss, head of microgen at E.ON, said: “Developing innovative, smarter and lower carbon technology is a key part of our work with Milton Keynes Council to help deliver elements of the Low Carbon Living Programme.”

One of the trickiest parts of this move was not the technology itself, but rather how people interact with the technology to ensure it is accessible and useable. For example, systems to manage energy efficiency effectively day-today can be activated remotely, requiring only one simple action from the user. This involves the power to turn on central heating using an iPhone app.

Snelson said: “You can make your home bespoke to your lifestyle, and change it flexibly during the day to maximise the performance.”

He added that this should be as simple as possible, as well as making the financial rewards visible.

“You can give people too much information; it needs to be made very accessible and workable. People have got to be able to understand it very easily and see how it gives them some financial benefit as well as the warm glow of saving the planet.”

Electric charging

Other major new initiatives include the introduction of induction charging for electric buses, in the UK’s first trial of a fully commercial electric bus service. The new service uses induction charging technology, through charging plates in the road at each end of the bus route, which take just ten minutes.

Snelson explained: “Other places have electric buses running, but they are used alongside diesel buses and when the electric bus runs out of power, it goes off to get plugged in somewhere and spends ages being charged; you actually have to have a large number of buses in the fleet to take account for downtime. With this new technology, you can just keep running a fleet with the same number of buses.”

The trial is being run in partnership with Mitsui, Wampfler, RightBus and local bus operator Arriva.

Future city

The cost savings on energy bills can be very easy to see on an individual case by case basis, Snelson said, but developing an energy programme for the whole town is more challenging.

He explained: “On an individual establishment basis, quite often there’s a pretty clear model, because you can see the energy saving and the company will make an investment up-front and get paid back through the reduction in energy costs.

“On a whole city scale it’s a bit different. What you’re looking to do with some of these trials is how you develop market applications and then it’s for the companies really to exploit those commercially if that works.”

To achieve this city-wide innovation, Milton Keynes is involved in the Technology Strategy Board’s Future City competition, looking at the integration and development of information systems to share data and build business models.

Snelson concluded: “Often these smaller projects, you look at how these can scale up, and you can use information or the opportunities to link into others.”

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