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Local planning key to decarbonisation

Words: Laura Edgar
Just 4 per cent of homes in the UK have low carbon heating / iStock-822784990

Decarbonising the energy sector cannot be achieved using a single approach nationwide, research suggests. Instead, each local area requires a mix of technologies and networks.

Reports put together by Energy Systems Catapult (ESC) for Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) conclude that local areas will need to take a leading role in the planning of their energy systems and infrastructure to meet decarbonisation targets at the least cost.

ESC then designed a planning framework that aims to help local government, energy networks and other local stakeholders take the lead on preparing for a low-carbon future.

Pilots conducted in Newcastle, Bridgend and Bury adopted a whole systems approach, which considers the entire energy system across several vectors.

The pilots found that the decarbonisation of heat could be achieved for less than 15 per cent above the cost of decarbonising electricity alone by adopting a ‘Whole Systems’ approach to Local Area Energy Planning – considering the entire energy system across vectors (heat, electricity, transport), supply chains (from energy generation to how it reaches people’s homes) and systems (physical, digital, market and policy systems).

ESC notes that over half of electricity is now low carbon, including renewable energy and nuclear power. However, just 4 per cent of homes in the UK use low-carbon heating despite almost a third of all UK carbon emissions coming from heat.

Until now, the firm said, there has been “limited joined-up planning” across heat, power, gas and energy efficiency in buildings for the decarbonisation of local energy systems. A major overhaul that extends into people’s homes would be necessary to meet climate change targets.

The planning process takes a whole systems view that accounts for building energy performance, heating technologies, electrification of cars, gas, power and heat networks.

A previous ESC and ETI report concluded that a whole systems approach was the best value way to decarbonising national energy infrastructure, keeping the costs at around 1 per cent of 2050 GDP. This is “significantly cheaper” than a “simplistic blanket solution” to decarbonisation, such as maximising the use of electricity or hydrogen, which were projected to cost 2.28 per cent to 3.51 per cent as much respectively. ESC said local area energy planning is based on taking this best value-for-money approach, but applying it at a local level.

The organisation says local area energy planning would create benefits for people and business, including the opportunity to create new jobs and increase confidence to invest in new energy products, services and infrastructure. Areas that do not have a local area energy plan in place would probably cost more to decarbonise in the long term and would limit the influence local areas have as changes are made.

Richard Halsey, innovation business leader at ESC, said a radical transformation is needed to meet the government’s national target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

“However, every local area is different. The state of homes and buildings, energy resources and networks, and levels of ambition are unique to each area. A single solution imposed across the country is likely to cost more and produce less desirable outcomes for people and businesses.

“It will be important going forward that planning for our future local energy systems embraces innovation and considers all options, including the role of hydrogen.”

Andrew Haslett, chief engineer at the ETI, explained: “Local areas across the UK need to find ways of making the energy transition that fit their circumstances. The work we have done with ESC and the three local areas across the UK has shown how this might work and provided a foundation to support whole systems planning across the UK. The enthusiasm of local stakeholders and support from central and devolved governments has been very encouraging.”

Read the reports:

Local Area Energy Planning: Supporting Clean Growth and Low Carbon Transition (pdf)

Local Area Energy Planning: Guidance for Local Areas (pdf)

Image credit | iStock