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Merton pioneers web-based energy monitor

An innovative web-based system aimed at monitoring the real-time performance of renewable systems has been unveiled in the London Borough of Merton and could eventually be rolled out across the whole capital.

Officials at the Government Office for London were so impressed by the prototype – developed through a partnership between Merton council and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, US – they have invited the group to launch the next stage at its Millbank headquarters at the end of June.

The system was unveiled at a special conference hosted by the London borough called The Merton Rule: Building a Zero Carbon Future.

Adrian Hewitt, former principal environment officer at Merton and now associate partner at consultancy Metropolis Green, has been working on the project, which aims to link energy monitoring with geographical information systems.

“At the moment the Government spends a lot of money on monitoring a handful of sites. It needs our approach to get a realistic assessment of the performance of these systems,” Mr Hewitt said.

“You could eventually have – in two to three years’ time – a huge number of bits of kit being monitored in different places if every borough signed up to use the system which we are designing. You would then have a huge amount of evaluation material. There were several representatives from government at the conference and they were very interested.”

Merton became famous for the pioneering rule which dictated that large commercial developments of more than 1,000 sq metres must generate at least 10 per cent of their energy needs from onsite renewables.

Now it has included a new condition in its planning guidelines that allows the council to demand a developer fits monitoring equipment to a renewable installation. So far, the Big Yellow Self Storage centre in Morden is already linked up and half a dozen other sites are set to be included in the pilot scheme. The system will also be used to map all renewable installations in the borough.

Mr Hewitt said: “We can eventually use this to find out the total renewable energy generation in Merton at any moment. If you are going to ramp up targets, how are you going to do that unless you have a secure evidence base?

“I think developers will just get on with it. The people who are going to be worried are renewable energy manufacturers if their products do not perform as well as they expect – and also the engineers and architects who design these systems.”

Andrew Cooper, head of onsite renewables at the Renewable Energy Association, said: “We want to see good monitoring of what renewables do, but we would have to look at whether it is a good idea for all installations. We shouldn’t forget that we already know a lot about how renewables perform and what they do.”

Mr Cooper said if the system was developed it should not be used to promote one technology over another. “We should provide targets to developers for renewable technology, but the technology they use to meet targets should be up to them.

“Guidance is important, knowing what each technology does is important, but I am not sure about specifying whether to use a certain technology. We need a range of options to achieve policy targets,” he concluded.