Local Area Energy Planning: Your Questions Answered - Chris Brierley

Comment by Chris Brierley, Senior Engagement and Impact Advisor at Energy Systems Catapult.

Net Zero has become a common phrase these days in politics, on the news, and in wider everyday conversations but the journey to that sunny upland(s) is far from straightforward…

It’s not simply about retrofitting your home or installing a heat pump – as desirable as such steps may be – one of the biggest challenges that needs to be addressed is the decarbonisation of the nation’s whole interconnected energy system.

And that’s where Energy Systems Catapult comes in. We’re working with industry and academia to act as the bridge that links ideas together and turns them into action.

Having a plan is key. But creating that plan isn’t necessarily straightforward. That is why we are big advocates of Local Area Energy Planning (LAEP).

Read on to explore the answers to the most common questions we get asked about LAEP and the LAEP process!

What is a LAEP and where did it come from?

Local Area Energy Planning was pioneered by Energy Systems Catapult, with Innovate UK support, and was initially trialled in three areas – Bridgend, Bury and Newcastle.

It was based on work started by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) which the Catapult in 2014.

It identifies the most cost-effective integrated energy systems plan for a local area to contribute to national and local Net Zero targets – and crucially, LAEPs are led by local authorities. This is because we believe they are best placed to drive this place-based approach to cutting carbon emissions.

It starts with a process of understanding an area’s current make up, bringing local stakeholders together and then carrying out modelling that considers the most cost-effective whole energy system combination of technologies and options for a local area to help provide it with options – what we call pathways – for the future. A preferred pathway is selected, and once created and adopted, a plan offers local authorities, combined authorities, and their partners the chance to decarbonise their local area – scaling investment faster and more cost-effectively.

Figure 1: What is a LAEP?

Figure 1: What is a LAEP?

What questions does a LAEP try and answer?

To get to Net Zero in a co-ordinated way requires us to answer a host of questions, understand today’s energy system, and then model what the future Net Zero system might look like based on an area’s current starting point and different possible futures to achieve the Net Zero target.

The first three stages of the LAEP journey, mapping (or baselining) the current energy system (what we call a Local Energy Asset Representation, or LEAR) and engaging stakeholders, can be done as a standalone exercise.

Through the whole process we look at how will we heat and power our homes, businesses, and transport networks of the future.

LAEP includes:

  • Gas, hydrogen, heating, cooling, and electricity networks
  • Forms of renewable and low-carbon energy resources
  • Local energy generation and storage
  • The residential and non-domestic built environment
  • Energy for industry and agriculture (where relevant)
  • Energy for transport

Through a whole-system approach, we consider the complex interactions and interdependencies between different parts of the energy system, covering energy demand, supply, management, storage, and consumption – this is the whole systems approach we at the Catapult champion. Such whole systems thinking helps us, help you to identify the projects needed to meet your Net Zero commitments and the scale of the investment required to meet these.

Figure 2: Whole Systems Thinking

Figure 2: Whole Systems Thinking

How popular is LAEP?

Whilst its currently not mandated for areas to have a LAEP – more and more places are using the method to get ahead of the game in the race to Net Zero. As a LAEP helps them on the journey to decarbonisation, from mapping the current energy assets and usage, and then bringing key local decision makers together to define a future pathway and detail the investment and changes needed for Net Zero.

At the end of December 2021, 15 places either had a LAEP or had one in development. Demonstrating the speed at which LAEPs have taken hold across the country, as of April 2023, 66 local places have one or are developing one. For the latest figures go to our interactive map.

Already we are seeing those areas with a LAEP utilising it as evidence to leverage funding and investment to support action in their local areas.

Figure 3: Which areas have a LAEP or LEAR?

Figure 3: Which areas have a LAEP or LEAR?

What are the key components to a LAEP?

Energy Systems Catapult has published guidance on how to create a Local Area Energy Plan (LAEP), aimed at local government organisations who are looking to create a plan to help them meet their Net Zero goals and climate emergency declarations. We believe this gives areas a framework to start their decarbonisation journey and do it in a co-ordinated way.

Development of the guidance was funded by the Prospering from the Energy Revolution challenge through UK Research & Innovation.

A LAEP sets out the change required to transition an area’s energy system to Net Zero in a given timeframe. This is achieved by exploring potential pathways that consider a range of technologies and scenarios. When combined with stakeholder engagement, this leads to the identification of the most cost-effective pathway and a sequenced plan of proposed actions to achieve an area’s Net Zero goal.

The Guidance provides a detailed description of the end-to-end process of creating a LAEP, broken down into seven stages:

Figure 4: 7 Stages of a Local Area Energy Plan

Figure 4: 7 Stages of a Local Area Energy Plan

What is the value of a LAEP?

Places are acting each day, many racing ahead with LAEPs whilst other local authorities are in danger of being left behind. This could lead to inefficient and uncoordinated investment in infrastructure and Net Zero project delivery which could drive up consumer bills.

According to a report by Innovate UK, the best way to invest in Net Zero is in a co-ordinated manner. Crucially, if it’s a placed-based approach, you get a bigger bang for your buck!

With the Committee on Climate Change estimating that delivering Net Zero will require around £50 billion of low carbon investment every year from 2030 (up from around £10 billion in 2020), we estimate that a one-off cost of £40million can provide all areas of the UK with a LAEP and provide a central technical advisory service to support that rollout.

What are the benefits of a LAEP?

Above all, LAEP is about creating a way for local people and communities to own the transition. Robust data and modelling are essential. They are tools to enable people to explore, test, and design the future energy system in their area. LAEPs are already helping to inform investment, securing funding, and fostering collaboration.

Figure 5: Benefits of LAEP

Figure 5: Benefits of LAEP

What are LAEPs delivering?

A LAEP provides critical tools to coalesce decision makers and accelerate action and investment in local areas. In the Local Area Energy Planning process, stakeholders are brought together around a common understanding of priorities, allowing decisions to be made and investment to be de-risked at pace and scale. To get on and deliver Net Zero now, low-regret, whole energy system questions need to be answered.

Many areas are using LAEPs to unlock funding opportunities either from government or the private sector, this is resulting in real action on the ground, for more examples see our case studies below. 

Case Studies

Case Study

From LEAR to a LAEP the Yorkshire way

Click here for more

Case Study

Greater Manchester LAEPs ahead in shift to Net Zero by 2038

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Case Study

Collaborating with Peterborough City Council to develop a Local Area Energy Plan

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Case Study

Building the vision and architecture for a local energy market in Bridgend, Wales

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Case Study

Lincolnshire LEAR makes the case for investment in region-wide decarbonisation

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Belfast LAEP & Queen’s Island Concept Design

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Local Area Energy Planning

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Local Area Energy Planning: The Time and Place is Now

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