Developing UK Power Networks’ pioneering tool to facilitate Local Area Energy Planning

Over 300 local authorities across the UK have declared a climate emergency. At the Catapult we believe Local Area Energy Plans (LAEP) are key to supporting local councils and communities on their decarbonisation journey. LAEPs are being delivered across the UK and are becoming a key national policy consideration having been referenced in the Skidmore Net Zero Review, and in the current (2023) Ofgem consultation on local future energy institutions and governance, where it suggests the need for alignment between local area energy planning and network planning.

An important role for LAEP is to help drive this alignment of place-based spatial planning with network planning, and the respective investment and decision-making processes. The Catapult is supporting further innovation in this space by working with the Local Net Zero team at UK Power Network’s Distribution System Operator (DSO), to develop a tool that assesses the impact that local area plans have on their local electricity networks. This is done using recognised industry best practice approaches and methodologies.

The Challenge

Each local area looking to develop their own LAEP will have different needs, understanding those needs and what plans would best suit their communities is a complex and time-consuming process which can be resource intensive.

Many local authorities lack the expertise and experience to be able to identify, assess or consider the energy network and technology impact on their development plans, and vice versa.

An effective Local Area Energy Plan needs to consider different stakeholders requirements, data and plans if it is to set out a deliverable plan towards achieving local decarbonisation goals, therefore, bringing together lots of different stakeholders with their information is critical to help get the best possible outcome. This specifically includes enabling effective sharing of information, and alignment of planning, between local government and energy network operators.

The Innovation

Project CLEO (Collaborative Local Energy Optimisation), an initiative funded by Ofgem through its Network Innovation Allowance (NIA) which brings together UK Power Networks, Energy Systems Catapult and a wider consortium of partners.

This pioneering project sees the Catapult bringing our expert knowledge of the LAEP process, delivery of local area energy plans, and data, to help develop a tool that will assist in understanding the impact of local areas plans on the existing network.

A prototype was launched, Your Local Net Zero Hub, and user groups of local authorities and local stakeholders are testing a new ‘energy planner’ feature that will support modelling and visualisation of local net zero plans. Where local authorities and their energy planners can layer local inputs such as decarbonisation strategies, local action plans, local market trends, social inclusion policies and transport plans overlaid with the DNO’s Distributed Energy Future Energy Scenario(s) and plans. This combining of data and knowledge will bring the LAEP and network planning process even closer together. Check out a demo of the tool.

Through collaboration and optioneering, the tool will assist local authorities at various levels of expertise to work effectively with other energy system stakeholders as they progress towards their Net Zero goals.

Users Central to the Solution’s Development

Local Authority users are at the centre of the tool development where engagement with users’ needs placed as a priority. Engagement was held with local authorities, community energy groups and Net Zero Hubs to understand requirements and pain points, and then validated and prioritised requirements through an in-depth design workshop, using collaborative ideation to visualise how the tool could work. This led to a launch of a prototype, setting up User Groups with local authorities, community energy groups and LAEP Practitioners to help shape the design and provide feedback to ensure the tool meets their needs.

The Solution

The digital tool will facilitate local authorities and other energy system stakeholders to rapidly evaluate different approaches to the deployment of Low Carbon Technologies (LCT) and the impact this has on the electricity network, by digitally and geo-spatially modelling the relative impacts, helping to determine the approach that would best suit that local authority, their communities, and potential investors.

Through this collaboration and a streamline process the tool also helps support quicker decisions by being able to test options digitally and thus being able to evaluate different options and scenarios, with respect to their impact on the electricity network. It also enhances the stakeholder engagement process for the local authorities by enabling the local stakeholders to visualise different options and make informed decisions.

The outputs from the tool will facilitate efficient and effective development of a LAEP which, in turn, will increase confidence in plans and better inform the investment plans of network operators.

The Impact 

Using the Catapult’s knowledge, expertise, and data we’ve supported the development of this innovative self-service digital tool, Your Local Net Zero Hub, to enable local authorities to make the best choices for their communities in developing their Local Area Energy Plan.

The tool closes the loop and ensures that as many stakeholders and interested parties are involved in the LAEP process and that their plans and objectives are considered. At the same time it also provides a practical means to facilitate ongoing dialogue between network operators and local authorities.

It empowers local areas to be able to make the best possible decisions and gives them the knowledge and the capabilities to ensure their plans are standardised, cost efficient and decisions can be taken in a transparent manner.

Next Steps

This tool sets the benchmark for others that might follow, the aspiration is that this innovative project demonstrates a clear way forward to bring distribution network operators (who are crucial to the successful delivery of LAEPs) into the discussion and decision-making arena ensuring priorities are aligned. This collaboration and alignment is key to getting the best and most cost and time efficient outcomes.

The Catapult hopes this approach gets rolled out across the country as LAEPs develop and evolve to meet our national Net Zero commitments.

Read the LAEP Report

LAEP - The Time and Place is NOW

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