A Scottish Local Area Energy Plan (LAEP) Route to Net Zero - Tim German

Comment by Tim German, Senior Strategic Relationship Manager – Places at Energy Systems Catapult.

When it comes to supporting local areas decarbonise, the Scottish government has made an excellent start. It’s plans uniquely reinforced by legislation, are to decarbonise buildings across the nation by 2045. Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategies (LHEES) are at the heart of this place-based, local approach.

The Scottish Government is clear that it aims to ensure that Scotland’s homes and buildings no longer contribute to climate change and are working with local government to deliver this transformation alongside the private sector and general public.

“Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategies (LHEES) are at the heart of a place-based, locally led and tailored approach to the heat transition. These local strategies will underpin an area-based approach to heat and energy efficiency planning and delivery.” – Scottish Government (2022).

Key to these plans is that it is locally driven as each of Scotland’s 32 local authorities should have an LHEES plan in place by the end of 2023.

The importance of decarbonising heat in buildings whilst undertaking energy efficiency measures is well-recognised. However, Energy Systems Catapult and representatives of various key organisations in Scotland would welcome energy planning that builds on LHEES by considering the interdependence of all elements of the energy system, namely: the electricity grid, the gas distribution network and transport.

LHEES recognises that decarbonisation needs to occur and be managed at a local, regional, and national level, but taking a placed-based approach. Taking it to the next level and achieving a whole energy systems approach at a local level will provide a detailed framework for delivery of local decarbonisation objectives alongside economic benefits and skills opportunities.

What is good about LHEES is that it provides a robust and an up-to-date evidence-based strategy on the energy and efficiency of buildings. It highlights the potential for large-scale, heat focused decarbonisation programmes across Scotland. The challenge is to take this data and these plans and marry them with the constraints and development plans of the electricity and gas networks and therefore taking a wider whole systems approach.

Momentum is growing behind Local Area Energy Planning (LAEP), pioneered by Energy Systems Catapult, and demonstrated by local authorities across England and Wales since 2015, since then at Energy Systems Catapult, we have been involved in 21 LAEPS across the country. Currently 64 are either underway or have been completed (as of April 2023).  From York and North Yorkshire who are already looking at turning plans into action or Greater Manchester whereby having LAEPS is helping to unlock investment:

Cllr Andrew Western, GMCA Lead for the Green City-Region, said:

“Local area energy plans are helping us optimise our energy consumption through localised systems in each of our 10 boroughs, making it more efficient and cost-effective for residents and businesses. This is the smart way forward and working together with our partners we can lay the groundwork for a low carbon future.”

Increasingly nations, regions and councils are seeing the benefit of taking a whole system, evidenced-based and iterative approaches to decarbonisation which provide delivery options alongside economic and social benefits to local areas.  This is shown in Wales where Energy Systems Catapult has taken on a technical advisory role. A crucial factor in Welsh Government’s approach was their inclusion of LAEP in their planning policy and their subsequent financial support for the development of LAEPs for Welsh local authorities. By mid 2024 each of Wales’s 22 LAs will have had an LAEP created for them. With some specific Welsh ‘tweaks,’ each LAEP is being delivered using the national guidance produced by the Catapult for Innovate UK.

In Scotland, a key focus of the Energy Systems Catapult’s work is supporting the extension of LHEES into full Local Area Energy Plans. This will help move energy transition programmes and projects into full deployment, delivering sustainable and resilient energy solutions for businesses, cities, towns and communities. An added benefit of turning an LHEES into a LAEP is the evidence it can provide to support energy infrastructure planning within a spatial planning framework.

Like LHEES, a LAEP process is led and owned by local government working with one of an increasing band of expert LAEP suppliers, they are developed collaboratively with defined stakeholders (in particular, the network and, if geographically appropriate, the gas operator). The results are a fully costed, spatial plan that identifies the change needed to the local energy system and built environment, detailing ‘what, where and when and by whom.’ LAEP sets out the expected total costs,

Scottish communities and their councils will benefit from the enhancing of LHEES to help make better informed investment decisions which are based on solid evidence. Key to this are the wider societal benefits that local area energy planning can bring in with the aim of ensuring a just transition to a better local energy system which reduces fuel poverty, leading to warmer homes and better health outcomes for residents and therefore reducing health costs. A decarbonised whole systems approach puts energy as the enabler to those wider benefits.

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