The Living Grid is a pioneering community of organisations driving  fundamental changes to our energy network to decarbonise it more quickly and efficiently

Inspired by the decentralised, decarbonised, interactive, democratic energy system that already exists in nature

What is the Living Grid?

The Living Grid is a pioneering community of people and organisations who are developing an approachable, new strategic narrative for the energy transition and using it to drive better forms of participation amongst users and suppliers in the energy network.  This is making our static network more interactive and adaptive so it is better-able to handle renewable energy.

At present, bill-payers in the UK are bearing the cost of an energy network that’s struggling to decarbonise.  Much of this is unnecessary: the result of a mismatch between the checks and balances used to keep our legacy network stable and those needed for distributed, renewable energy.   The faster we resolve this mismatch the more quickly, efficiently and securely we can exploit the potential of renewable energy.  Yet progress is slow and disjointed.

To make the dynamics of our legacy energy network more compatible with renewable energy, the users and suppliers of energy must communicate and cooperate much more so that they play an active part in moving energy around and keeping the supply and demand in balance.  The pioneering community involved in the Living Grid is consciously modelling these new forms of participation to catalyse the emergence of an interactive system.

Through joint communications, learning and action, we are sharing a new story of energy:

  1. To imaginatively challenge the ‘Passive Consumer’ mindset that dominates our linear, static, centralised network and that’s holding back the energy transition.
  2. To introduce a new idea of organisations as ‘Active Agents’ in an interactive energy ecosystem and encourage organisations to embed this in their sustainability strategies
  3. To extend their own climate leadership by showcasing how they are coming alive in the energy network and the collective impact they are having on improving it beyond the borders of their organisation e.g. through carbon and cost efficiencies.
  4. To mobilise energy users to advocate for a more coherent approach to rolling out diverse digital technologies that drives decarbonisation in the interests of bill-payers.

If we’re successful, we’ll spark a shift in the behaviour of our legacy energy network so that it behaves as a dynamic, living system: adaptive, cooperative and self-balancing.

What we’re doing

Forum for the Future is convening diverse collaborators to develop the Living Grid over time.  We’re inspired by – and grateful to – the visionary group of technology providers that are funding the Living Grid to make it possible. The current phase is supported by  SmartestEnergy – the UK’s leading purchaser of independent generation and supplier of renewable energy. Open Energi supported the first phase.

The Living Grid saw a successful programme of events and media launch in 2016. This was followed by a global, online conversation year asking, “How would nature redesign our alien energy system for life on Earth?” In the summer of 2017, we launched a video to inspire corporate energy users to assume a more cooperative role in the way they manage their energy supply and use, and to see this as a vital part of leadership on climate change. It got people asking themselves: ‘Am I a passive user in the energy system or an active player?’

Why the Living Grid?

Few people understand how the current dynamics of energy networks are constraining the low carbon power mix that’s feasible. Even fewer are aware of the role organisations can play in making the dynamics of energy networks more interactive and flexible to make them more compatible with renewable energy. In the UK, this means organisations focus on decarbonising their own operations and value chains and are missing opportunities to unlock carbon, energy and cost savings in the system beyond.

The Living Grid exists to catalyse the cultural changes needed to expand demand-side markets and to act as a vehicle for corporate energy users to play their part in driving them – initially focused in the UK. Corporate energy users are in a position to illustrate the benefits of changing the dynamics of the network as their loads and generation have a noticeable effect.

The Living Grid is supporting a new wave of organisations to embrace a more active role in energy and to see this as a vital part of climate leadership.  The passive role we play in the linear, static, centralised network we have now is one of the reasons it continues to be all of these things. As long as our approach to energy stays the same it’s always been, we’ll continue to have the network we’ve always had. If we want to change the dynamics of the network, we must choose to participate in it in new and better ways.

What are our measures of success?

To make the transition from a network geared for fossil fuels to one geared for renewable energy, we must look at the capabilities, interactions and design of every aspect of the system and question whether it has to be this way, or whether there is a better, alternative approach.

The initial measure of success is to drive the uptake of demand-side technologies and the extension of demand-side markets.  To bring our network to life, it’s vital organisations adopt technologies that allow them to interrelate and participate differently – so we’re starting there.
But a smarter energy network isn’t inherently more coherent or better at serving the interests of bill-payers.  As the Living Grid matures, we will seek to influence how different digital technologies interact across the energy system and the kind of relationships enabled by them.