Delivering Net Zero in a co-ordinated, place-based way - Andrew Clark

Comment by Andrew Clark, Business Leader – Place at Energy Systems Catapult.

The Climate Change Committee estimates that low carbon investment must scale up to £50 billion each year to deliver Net Zero.

The scale and pace required to achieve this ambitious goal means taking a holistic approach to decarbonisation. All facets of life need to be considered in the places we live, work, and play. This is no easy feat. That is why we’re proponents of a place-based approach. This means adopting sources of decarbonised heat, renewable power, and low carbon transportation, and operating them as a whole system in the way that’s right for the context of every local area.

With just 26 years to go until 2050, there is no time to delay. Positively we’re seeing individuals, communities, businesses, and public sector bodies, taking the right steps forward. Whether that is by developing a coordinated plan, and installing electric vehicle (EV) charge points, installing ground and rooftop solar arrays, or fitting low carbon heating solutions in homes and commercial and public sector sites.

While these are positive actions, there is no clear and recognisable path to Net Zero for every place in the UK. This results in opportunistic delivery with some local areas charging ahead and decarbonising at pace, while leaving others behind.

LAEP forward

As a direct response to this challenge, Energy Systems Catapult pioneered the creation and delivery of Local Area Energy Planning (LAEP), a stakeholder driven, evidence-based approach that uses whole systems thinking to map out the optimal route for a local area to decarbonise.

A LAEP provides a level of detail comparable to an urban masterplan and considers a range of technologies and scenarios – such as deploying different heat decarbonisation technologies in different areas to avoid a high-cost upgrade of the electricity network. When combined with stakeholder engagement – incorporating their data, knowledge, and future plans – a LAEP is built on a common evidence base so that council planners, network operators, businesses and community groups know they are working towards a common Net Zero goal built on strong foundations.

The scope of a LAEP covers the current energy consumption and associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as well as the projected consumption in a defined area, primarily focusing on the area’s built-environment (all categories of domestic, non-domestic, commercial, and industrial buildings) and some aspects of energy used for transportation. The plan looks forward from this current baseline to find a pathway forward to 2050 and any other local targets.

Setting the standard

LAEPs are becoming a recognised standard for local energy planning across the UK. Local authorities in areas such as Peterborough, Greater Manchester, and York and North Yorkshire have all developed and adopted LAEPs.

Welsh Government is forging ahead and demonstrating the effectiveness of considering LAEP as standard for all local authorities. Welsh Government is the first national government to fund the roll-out of LAEP for all its local authorities. In 2022 we were appointed official technical adviser for the delivery programme of Local Area Energy Plans across eighteen Welsh councils, a further four councils (Bridgend, Conwy, Newport and Pembrokeshire) already have LAEPs.

Uniquely as a government, in 2021 Welsh Government, incorporated Local Area Energy Planning with its national planning policy. This was hugely significant as it paved the way for Welsh Government’s decision to agree funding for all eighteen remaining local authorities to receive LAEPs.

The LAEPs in Wales will comprise both urban and rural locations, with differing contexts and unique opportunities and challenges. Residents in mid-Wales can share their views on energy and transport use until March 31 2024. Responses will inform the design and delivery of the mid-Wales LAEPs.

From plans to action, the LAEPs in Wales will provide local evidence and plans to help catalyse investment and action. Once all the LAEPs have been completed and aggregated, Welsh Government intends for them to inform a National Energy Plan and to turn its attention to delivery as early as 2025.

Peterborough LAEP

Away from Wales, cities across the UK are turning plans into action. Peterborough declared a climate emergency in 2019 and the development of a comprehensive, data-driven, and cost-effective plan for decarbonisation of the whole energy system swiftly followed. The LAEP covered 70% of Peterborough’s total emissions.

The LAEP demonstrated that meeting a Net Zero target of 2040 would require investment of £8.8 billion into the city. The forecast investment required is the total capital costs of the whole energy system (including domestic heating, insulation, networks etc.). Investment would most likely come from a combination of private investment, residential home upgrades, and government grants.

Adrian Chapman, executive director: place and economy at Peterborough City Council commented: “[The LAEP] will act as a blueprint for positive and real change in our city that directly benefits existing residents and businesses as well as future generations”.

On the back of the LAEP, the authority has been considering how it turns the plans into action. They’ve recently been successful in securing £2.7 million in funding from Innovate UK’s Net Zero Living programme to fund a project which will turn their LAEP into deliverable packages of work. It will work on governance, funding routes, skills and capability needs and customer engagement and specifically focus on the rollout of heat pumps in rural areas.

What is key about this work is the partnership working between the public and private sector from the council, Energy Systems Catapult, Edenseven, and Nordic Energy.

Joining the dots 

A strategic decarbonisation plan is only the beginning of a local area’s Net Zero journey. Once a plan is in place, the hard part follows, namely, turning that plan into local action for communities.

This means tackling emissions in our homes, communities, and local places. Having a plan like a LAEP allows us to give shape to the nature of these changes, what needs to happen where, when and how many, and the size of the aggregate investment opportunity. It also allows us to take a more efficient and coordinated approach de-risking delivery, such as through purposeful consumer engagement.

It is staggering that our domestic properties account for over one quarter of total GHG emissions. Concerningly, the average household emits 2.7 tonnes of CO2 every year from heating alone.

Consumers are curious about the future of home heating and the impact this will have on their lifestyle. This is understandable, particularly as 78% of UK homes are heated by a natural gas boiler – that is a big chunk of the population to convince that readily available alternatives such as heat pumps work. LAEPs allow us to plan consumer engagement around issues like this more effectively as part of a coherent plan being turned into action. We need to be upfront and honest with consumers, not only about the options that are available, but the impact the low carbon switch could have on them.

The Electrification of Heat Demonstration Project sought to understand the technical and practical feasibility, and constraints of a mass rollout of heat pumps into British homes. The Project, which is funded by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero installed 742 heat pumps in a variety of housing archetypes such as flats, terraces, and semi-detached homes.

The Project found that not only are heat pumps three times more efficient than gas boilers, but they also work in a broad spectrum of housing archetypes. The Demonstration Project also found that energy efficiency upgrades were only required in 15% of homes.

For LAEPs to ensure scaled investment, we need to demonstrate that the technologies proposed within the plans will help householders to decarbonise their heating without compromising on comfort. We’ve done the hard work and proven that heat pumps work, now it’s time to maximise those learnings and understand how their rollout can be supported once a plan is in place.

Place-based decarbonisation planning 

We need to step up place-based approaches to decarbonisation within a national framework. It is in our places that people and communities take the decisions that will allow us to reach Net Zero, and that organisations, business and democratic institutions can align their action and investment.

Read the Report

Local Area Energy Planning: The Time and Place is Now

Net Zero Places

We empower and advise Local Authorities, Network Operators, and Central and Devolved Governments to take Net Zero action, mobilising the plans, projects, processes and partners you need to decarbonise local areas.

Find out more

Want to know more?

Find out more about how Energy Systems Catapult can help you and your teams