Friday, July 19, 2024

Local Area Energy Planning – What does good look like?

Rich Leach

Comment by Richard Leach, Senior Local Energy Transition Advisor at Energy Systems Catapult.

A coordinated approach 

I coined the phrase Local Area Energy Planning in 2018 and I am pleased it is gaining traction across the UK as places look to plan and deliver their Net Zero ambitions. At the end of 2021 we had 15 local areas in the UK either with a LAEP in place or were developing one. As of May 2024, there are over 100 areas who have either completed or are undertaking a LAEP – accounting for around 25% of local authorities in the UK. And that is without LAEP being mandated or funded in a co-ordinated way centrally (except for Welsh Government who have commissioned LAEPs for all 22 of their local authorities).

The Catapult came up with the concept of LAEP because we could see that unlike other practices, like transport planning, decarbonisation activity was uncoordinated, with different organisations doing their own thing.

To achieve Net Zero and to do this cost-effectively it is clear that we need a ‘whole energy system’ approach. Also key is that plans should be locally led, rather than being imposed on local places through a national, top-down approach. Over the last decade we’ve delivered 22 LAEPs and it is great to see others have entered the market to deliver and help support continued innovation in this space. We created guidance as a framework for local areas to procure someone to help them deliver a local LAEP – but consistency and robustness remain a challenge.

The ’perfect plan’

At its core, a good LAEP gives a local area a highly granular plan that shows what needs to be done, where it can be done, and when it can be done.

A well designed LAEP will include the following:

  • The chosen pathway with sequenced interventions that set out the area’s proposed route to Net Zero.
  • A ‘plan on a page’ that provides an at-a-glance impression of the scale of least regret interventions across the different geographical zones of the local area.
  • Visual focus zones for all the prioritised activity associated with getting to Net Zero.
  • Outline priority projects, providing users of the LAEP with priority. Interventions to take forward.
  • Breakdown of investment to decarbonise the local area.
  • Highlighted next steps including key immediate/near-term activities and actions needed to progress the LAEP.
  • Corresponding data sets that can be used for a future LAEP update or by organisations to support project/implementation activity.

A seven-stage process

A good LAEP will follow the guidelines and the seven stages, there are lots of tools and approaches out there which use the term LAEP but when you look into it quite often all it really is some data visualisation of the current energy system in a location. Whilst this is useful to identify quicks wins, it doesn’t model future pathways and take a whole energy systems approach, helping a local area deliver the most cost-effective route to Net Zero.

Prepare – In this stage, key for a good LAEP is to ensure that mobilisation includes having an understanding of how the LAEP is going to be used afterwards by local government. This may include considering if it is better placed to try and develop a LAEP regionally with partners or individually.

Engage – A good outcome is that all major stakeholders  who are going to play a role in delivering net zero in a place support/are bought into the LAEP

Map – Representing the local area and its energy system with a very high level of spatial granularity (ideally at building level) is important as this provides the building block to identifying the what, where and how many in the LAEP

Model – technical robustness of the modelling/analysis is so important, a good outcome is being confident with the proposed solutions when compared to other options from a whole energy system perspective – you need to be able to explain why options have been selected

Choose – Looking across options and scenarios for trends to identify where energy system decisions are low regret e.g. a heat network is always a good option for a place when compared to other options

Identify – Breaking down all of the activity in a LAEP in a sequence, prioritising what to do in the short term (where low regret / less risk) versus key decision points and less certain (longer term activity)

The plan – Spatially visualising, to a high degree of detail, the what, where, how many, and how much (e.g. how many EV charge points in this post code area and how £) – this is what organisations use to take forward activity, not lots of technical writing. Also providing the outputs as data to be used and kept up to date.

Unlocking funding

By following the above and by using data right down to the street level and the lower super output areas you get the level of granularity which can help local decision makers know for example where the best homes are for retrofit or the best homes for solar. This enables areas to create areas of focus and understand opportunities to deploy at scale and therefore support investment.

LAEPs are helping areas unlock funding opportunities both from the public and private sectors, we are seeing this in both York and North Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.

As we recently highlighted in our Time is Now Report – which looked at the barriers to LAEPs from capacity, capability, and data. Data is key to the success of a LAEP and a good LAEP needs good data to inform decision making and the choosing of the right pathway.

If we want every local area in the UK to progress its own Net Zero journey, I passionately believe we need consistency and an agreed framework. I remain committed to championing LAEP as the approach that gives our towns and communities the power and evidence to get to their destination in the best possible way.

This article appeared in the June 2024 issue of Energy Manager magazine. Subscribe here.

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