An Overview of Development in Distributed Energy

This is VEIL’s first briefing paper on distributed systems. Drawing on examples from states and cities in the EU and US, this paper demonstrates policy approaches for the development of distributed energy systems.

Authors: Dr. Kes McCormick, Rebekka Falk and Samira Viswanathan
Participating Institutions: Australian Centre for Science, Innovation and Society, University of Melbourne with The EU Environmental Education and Research Alliance (ENVERA)

Download the Distributed Energy VEIL Research Paper


Distributed energy is not a new idea. However, advances in technology and rising awareness of major sustainability challenges are creating new opportunities. At one end of the spectrum, distributed energy refers to small and medium scale technologies that generate electricity and heat. The term is often used to describe energy generated by units that are close to the location of use (either independent of, or connected to, ‘the grid’). On the other hand, distributed energy can be understood more as a structural transformation of grid-connected electricity systems, away from highly centralised technologies towards distributed and diversified systems relying far more on renewable  energy sources. This has implications for both production and consumption of electrical energy.


The purpose of this short briefing paper was to review the current status of (and expectations for) distributed energy in the EU and the USA, as well as to highlight the opportunities and challenges for a large expansion of distributed energy in the near future. The report is principally concerned with systems that are grid-connected. There are 2 main themes that run throughout the report. These include:
• Business intelligence: What are the market trends for distributed energy?
• Policy instruments: What policies and programs are at the forefront of promoting distributed energy?

The themes identified represent a rather demanding challenge, and this paper goes only a small way to responding to this challenge. It is a first step of a longer investigation, and reveals a number of areas for further research work and discussion. This paper explores knowledge, experiences and programs on distributed energy in the EU, and two progressive states in the USA, namely California and Texas. In the EU, the focus is on a number of countries, including Denmark, the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden. In the case of Sweden, the spotlight shifts to towns, which have heavily invested in distributed energy.