STeM: informing Net Zero planning and decision making

The Spatial and Temporal Modelling (STeM) project’s aim was to help local authorities in their strategic Net Zero planning to have maximum impact by creating an understanding of what tools, data and skills are required to support a spatial, dynamic, and visual planning methodology at a local level. The impact will stem from socio-economic and climate benefits and translate to both the constituents and those developing and delivering the plans.

The innovation

The project explored the idea of ‘Spatial and Temporal Modelling (STeM)’. STeM describes the idea of a spatial, data-driven modelling approach (with fixed targets e.g. Net Zero by 2045), which allows local authorities to explore a range of credible pathways (e.g. energy decarbonisation) over a chosen period.

Crucially, STeM would be dynamic and could be updated to reflect the changing reality of a local place (e.g. a change of policy direction and updates to the grid).

The concept of STeM at a local level is still in its infancy, however two things are clear.

  • The need for a local, place-based approach to strategic Net Zero planning.
  • The important role STeM holds for strategic Net Zero planning.

The challenge

When it comes to the development of Net Zero plans, quite often local authorities do not have the full in-house knowledge or capacity.

Therefore developing a plan involves commissioning external consultants for some or all of the process. The consultant will gather and organise a large amount of data, and may use it to develop future scenarios, and undertake optimisation into a single low regret pathway. This kind of work has often been presented in a static written report, meaning that if something changes the report is in part outdated and the local authority is unable to make updates itself.

Many local authorities are already utilising elements of STeM – particularly spatial modelling and GIS skills. However, many face barriers in the implementation and development of STeM including:

  • Understanding of what STeM is
  • Funding uncertainty
  • Lack of capacity or capability
  • Ease of refresh-ability/dynamic use of a STeM tool
  • Lack of consistency of input data
  • Differing levels of access to tools
  • Different levels of appetite across local authorities

The solution

To help support the successful implementation and development of STeM in local authority Net Zero planning practices, The North East and Yorkshire Net Zero Hub and Energy Systems Catapult sought to identify the required  tools, data and skills.

To achieve this, the Catapult carried out the following:

  • A literature review by key publications to understand the economic and strategic cases for STeM.
  • Stakeholder engagement to document and capture the existing capacity, needs and tools at local level.
  • A review of current commercial solutions available to understand what tools are currently commercially available with STeM capabilities.

The insights gained from this work are highlighted in a final report.

Andrew Clark, Business Leader - Place, Energy Systems Catapult:

"The variety of tools and approaches to Net Zero Energy planning can feel overwhelming. We are thrilled to have delivered this work for the North East and Yorkshire Net Zero Hub, which helps bring clarity for local authorities. Providing insight and structure around what approach to use when and how this can align with in-house capabilities."


A number of key findings were drawn from the project:

  • Local authority needs: Local and combined authorities have a range of unmet needs when it comes to supporting STeM for strategic Net Zero planning. Notably, there appears to be a lack of awareness of data quality and availability, and the potential impact this could have on a plan.
  • The STeM opportunity: Strategic Net Zero planning can be supported by existing Spatial and Temporal Modelling capabilities which many local and combined authorities showcase at least a minimum level. However, the specific capabilities needed vary on the use-case and stage of the journey.
  • Modular approach: SteM needs will change depending on where organisations are in the journey and data, tools, and skills should be tailored accordingly. A modular approach to STeM tools and capabilities can help local authorities to develop and deliver Net Zero plans.
  • Functional framework: The functional framework captures the breadth of scope needed from a tool to support different STeM use cases at different journey stages. Pathways optimisation and modelling capabilities may set the strategic strategic direction and visualisation tools are more suitable for project delivery.
  • Commercially available tools: There is a range of commercially available tools across different capabilities with an emerging roadmap of tools that deliver more complex optimisation functions.
  • There is an opportunity for the commercial market to work with local government stakeholders to develop tools that deliver to their unique needs.
  • Ownership: There is an opportunity for different levels of local government to collaborate and share resources to support Spatial and Temporal Modelling.

A key outcome from this work is to give local areas the ability to make more informed decisions about where they are on the Net Zero planning journey, and which toolset may be most suitable for their needs. Informing planning in a dynamic way whilst making it accessible to as many stakeholders as possible.

Next steps

The North East and Yorkshire Hub and Energy Systems Catapult are undertaking a number of knowledge dissemination activities to spread the gathered insights this project as wide and far as possible in hope it can help drive the successful implementation of STeM at local level.

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