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Blog Post 29 July 2021

Innovating to engineer a positive change

From on-street electric vehicle charging to off-grid power access, two game-changing projects are helping us support consumers and communities in agile new ways

A two-year project funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy aims to tackle the lack of off-street charging for electric vehicle drivers.

Launched in 2020, Agile Streets is a smart response to the ‘Beyond Off-Street’ competition call for electric vehicle charging solutions that remove the barriers to cheaper tariffs while improving grid management.

The programme is delivered by a consortium led by Samsung Research UK and including Energy Saving Trust, Connected Kerb and Octopus Energy for Business, among other technical partners.

Agile Streets uses a purpose-built optimisation platform to set a charging schedule based on driver preferences. An app links the smart metering network to electric vehicle chargepoint infrastructure to enable flexible tariffs for on-street parking. Result? More drivers can benefit from cheaper tariffs or off-peak rates that would normally only be available to people with garages or driveways.

Maria McLean, senior project manager, explains: “Over a third of UK residents don’t have access to off-street parking. That’s a major barrier to electric vehicle uptake. This scheme provides access to charging when the grid is less congested and electricity is cheaper. We’re swapping the fixed fee for agile tariffs.”

Agile Streets is now recruiting participants for trials in East Lothian and Glasgow in Scotland, and Hackney and Shropshire in England. 100 charging points will be installed across these four zones.

“Our role,” says Maria, “has been to identify user preferences that feed into the app design, as well as creating materials that encourage people to sign up for the trial. We’ve also developed a monitoring framework for measuring satisfaction levels and other metrics after our trial sites go live. Meanwhile, our stakeholder dissemination events are a key part of our engagement with local authorities and other partners.”

Cheaper, cleaner energy solutions for the developing world

University students from around the world are designing low energy appliances for use in remote, rural areas which may not have reliable access to a national power supply.

The Efficiency for Access Design Challenge tasks student teams with creating affordable, high-performance electrical appliances for use in off-grid, or weak-grid, scenarios.

The scheme is part of the Low Energy Inclusive Appliances (LEIA) global research and innovation programme launched in 2017 and funded by UK Aid initially as a five-year £18m scheme. In 2019, the IKEA Foundation contributed additional funding worth €5m over three years.

LEIA seeks to double the efficiency and halve the cost of a range of appliances suited to off-grid domestic and commercial consumers, with benefits in areas including energy accessibility, increased incomes, reduced emissions, better access to healthcare, and improved food security.

The programme is delivered by a coalition coordinated by Energy Saving Trust in partnership with the Collaborative Labelling and Appliance Standards Program (CLASP). Last year, Covid-19 restrictions meant bringing the design challenge’s first finals event online at short notice – a challenge in itself.

In June 2020, the scheme’s inaugural gold awards went to University College London for off-grid pressure cookers intended for sub-Saharan communities, and to Makerere University in Uganda for a standalone solar load management system.

The Efficiency for Access Design Challenge is set to grow. “In our first year,” says project manager Jaqueline Garcia, “we had teams from nine universities. This year, 21 teams from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Kenya, Uganda and the UK submitted their innovative ideas, and some have even developed a prototype. Next year we hope to welcome even more teams from 30 universities.

Emilie Carmichael, head of international, said: “We see this as an important growth area. Working with key partners like Engineers Without Borders, we have huge ambitions to increase our support for vulnerable communities globally. Growing our successful design challenge and developing our offer to participating students is a major part of that.”

Adds Jaqueline: “The knowledge and skills acquired by our students have a direct impact on their societies. The exposure they have to our industry partners allows them to make a real difference.”

Last updated: 29 July 2021