From Cardiff to Conwy, Wales is LAEPing ahead on its path to decarbonisation - Tim German

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

We are supporting the Welsh Government (Llywodraeth Cymru) to achieve two major elements of its ambitious plans to transition Wales to a Net Zero economy. In June (2023) Welsh Government published the technical report Future Energy Grids for Wales, written by our Whole Systems & Networks team. This important report is designed to support Welsh Government’s understanding of the challenges required to achieve the fundamental changes to the nations’ energy system.

As part of its vision, Welsh Government is the first national government to fund the roll-out of Local Area Energy Planning (LAEP) for all its local authorities. In 2022 we were appointed official technical advisor for the delivery of the programme to deliver Local Area Energy Plans to eighteen of its councils, a further four councils (Bridgend, Conwy, Newport and Pembrokeshire) already have LAEPs.

How we got here

The pro-active pathway that has led Welsh Government to this nationwide approach to LAEP predates the Energy System Catapult, which was created to help the UK accelerate its transformation of its energy system in late 2015.

Ten years ago, in January 2013, the development of LAEP began in earnest, seeking three local authorities with the ambition to be part of Smart Systems & Heat, a UK government supported programme managed by Energy Technologies Institute (ETI). Smart Systems and Heat (SSH), announced by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, was a multi-million-pound practical programme to understand how the UK can begin to decarbonise its 23 million homes.

Working on the basis that solutions will be different for local areas across the UK, work began with well over 50 councils across the UK, from Aberdeen to Cornwall, including eight from Wales (Cardiff, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Bridgend, Neath Port Talbot, Swansea, Gwynedd, Wrexham).  A detailed and data-focussed programme, Local Area Energy Planning (LAEP) is still seen as the most effective way for councils, network operators and all stakeholders to understand what actions and technologies are necessary to decarbonise the energy system at local, place-based level.

Wanting to ensure LAEP engagement in Wales, Welsh Government supported each of its local authorities throughout the selection process.

In 2014, the first three LAs to be provided with LAEPs were chosen. Amongst these was Bridgend County Borough Council in South Wales (alongside Bury in Greater Manchester and Newcastle-upon-Tyne).  This work, begun with ETI, was transferred into the Energy Systems Catapult in November 2015.

An established market

The market for LAEPs has become well established across England and Wales. Between 2018 and 2021, Welsh Government commissioned two further LAEPs, in Conwy and Newport. These were completed by Arup which, in 2021 with funding from Innovate UK, also completed a LAEP for Pembrokeshire Council.

LAEPs are designed to be reviewed at least every 5 years; this may lead to a refresh of the LAEP depending on the outcome of the review. The Catapult completed a second iteration of the LAEP for Bridgend CBC in 2022.

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.

Also, a piece of enabling legislation the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015  which has created a focus for Welsh Government and has led to approaches such as Local Area Energy Planning being prioritised. It’s a piece of legislation that has been praised by the UN as it sees decision makers having to ensure that all laws consider their impact upon future generations.

LAEPs for sixteen of those authorities (in the south, north and south-west regions of Wales) are being produced by Arup and City Science. The two LAEPs for the large rural councils of mid-Wales region, Ceredigion and Powys, are being produced by ESC. This is significant as, by far the majority of the sixty plus LAEPs produced across England and Wales so far have been for councils which are primarily urban.

Not unusually, resourcing staff for supporting LAEP production is difficult for some authorities and in our soon to be published report on the current state of LAEPs – we do acknowledge this and believe some investment is needed in support for local authorities. But in Wales, the Government has helped overcome this by funding staff based in the four regions to assist their councils with data collection etc.

Working with network operators, National Grid, Scottish Power and Wales and West Utilities, further stages of both the Future Grid and LAEP projects will lead to Wales being the first UK nation to produce a comprehensive National Plan firmly aligned with place-based activity for decarbonising its energy system. Local Area Energy Planning delivers the place-based framework for that ‘bottom-up, top down’ approach.

A Welsh Government Official said:

“We recognise decarbonising our energy system will be fundamental to meeting net zero and are pleased to have partnered with Energy Systems Catapult to deliver our Local Area Energy Planning (LAEP) programme. The local energy plans will improve understanding of what the energy transition is likely to involve at a local level and will also inform our national policies and programmes as we work with partners to deliver an energy system fit for the future.

“The Catapult pioneered the LAEP approach and is acting as our Technical Advisor, providing support to all the partners involved in delivering the programme. The involvement of a wide range of local stakeholders is crucial to the success of LAEP and this is reflected in the methodology the Catapult have produced for the programme. We aim to be the first nation to have complete coverage of LAEPs, and with the support of the Catapult in 2024 they will bring all 22 local energy plans together to produce insights that will inform Wales’s first National Energy Plan”.

From plans to action, the Welsh Government doesn’t just want documents to gather dust and once all the LAEPs have been completed and aggregated into a national plan, it wants to turn its attention to delivery as early as 2025.

The approach in Wales is being watched closely by many over the border and the work and knowledge gained will inform how Local Area Energy Planning develops across the UK.

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Local Area Energy Planning: The Time and Place is Now

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