- Energy planning at a community level
Within our D3.10 Report, Low Cabon Hub examined many of the learnings from the Project LEO Smart & Fair Neighbourhood trials and how they can help us plan for Smart Local Energy Systems for the future.
A key achievement outlined in the report was how, within one of the trials in particular, we utilised the Local Area Energy Planning (LAEP) tools and facilitated the development of these to create a pioneering energy plan at a community level. In this article, we summarise LAEP, why it’s so important and how planning at a community level can help us to effectively roll out smart energy systems for communities.
A Local Area Energy Plan (LAEP) is essentially a process where the planning and management of energy generation and supply are handled at a local authority level, rather than at a national level, meaning that each area’s unique usage and production can be taken into account – which makes a lot of sense when you think about it.
LAEP uses a data-driven approach to help achieve our net-zero goals within local areas. Flipping the current energy supply structure on its head, it takes a bottom-up approach, starting at the local level and considering the unique features and requirements of the local area first.
It is a complex process that involves mapping all aspects of the energy system in the area. This is achieved by analysing all the area’s available energy sources (renewable and non-renewable), as well as considering energy use patterns. Using knowledge of these factors, the energy plan can identify opportunities for energy flexibility, optimisation, efficiency improvements, and ways we can effectively merge renewable energy generation into our energy systems.
Other benefits of planning our energy systems locally are that we can take into consideration many other individual elements of each area that impact the system, including its transportation infrastructure, industries and population as well as social factors, public engagement and local authority regulation, all of which are relevant to any energy plan.
Overall, the LAEP process is designed to provide a roadmap for the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon, and resilient energy system within a specific region. By taking a holistic and data-driven approach, local communities can effectively work towards achieving their net-zero emissions goals and contribute to broader climate change mitigation efforts.
The ultimate objective of LAEP is to identify the most affordable and efficient ways for a local area to cut carbon emissions and create a plan that outlines the steps to be taken to achieve this.
LAEP in action
In its Net Zero Strategy, published in October 2021, the government stated “We will take a place-based approach to net zero, working with local government to ensure that all local areas have the capability and capacity for net zero delivery as we level up the country.”
And around the country, local authorities have been moving towards local energy planning. Energy Systems Catapult (ESC) created a report commissioned by UKRI to evaluate the landscape of Local Area Energy Planning in the UK. They say:
“Increased interest in Local Area Energy Planning has created an active landscape of programmes, projects and initiatives which may not always be aligned in approach and may not connect action with outcomes. This creates significant comparability challenges and an inability to ensure the sum of the local parts equals a whole national picture.”
In its comprehensive 2021 report on Local Area Energy Planning, ESC assessed the scale of energy planning underway in the UK by local authorities while identifying its main barriers and challenges. They found that the level of LAEP activity undertaken to date is low but is growing. Their map below shows the scale of planning at that time.
Taking planning from a local level to a community level
So, we can see that Energy Systems Catapult (ESC) had already developed modelling tools that it had so far applied to LAEPs being produced for local authority areas that have populations of hundreds of thousands of people.
Much of the work carried out for the Project LEO trials was carried out at the grid edge (the ‘edge’ of the electricity network, where we connect to the network and electricity reaches our homes and businesses.) so this scale felt too large and not within the ‘local’ context where we connect with our community group members.
It was agreed we needed tools like those used for LAEP only at a hyper-local level. So Low Carbon Hub commissioned ESC to apply these tools to a primary substation area, creating data that would feed into our Eynsham Smart Fair Neighbourhood trial and its Smart and Fair Futures project, generating the ability to monitor and plan energy use and generation at a much smaller and more truly local scale. We tentatively named this type of plan CapZero – ‘Community Action Plan for Zero Carbon Energy’.
Eynsham and CapZero
The Project LEO Eynsham trials developed a first-of-its-kind approach to creating a workable plan that will ultimately result in the creation of a zero-carbon enevrgy system at the primary substation level that balances out energy generation, storage and usage behind the substation.
This groundbreaking local energy plan focused on the Cuckoo Lane electricity primary substation area, which includes all or parts of the parishes of Cassington, Eynsham, Freeland, Farmoor in Cumnor, Hanborough, North Leigh, South Leigh, Stanton Harcourt & Sutton and included several critical actions to achieve net zero emissions in the area:
Ingraining sustainability in new build homes: This involves implementing sustainable practices and technologies in ALL new construction projects to ensure that new buildings are energy-efficient and have a minimal carbon footprint. Measures may include using renewable energy sources, employing energy-efficient building materials, and incorporating smart technologies for energy management.
Maximising energy efficiency in existing homes: CapZero seeks to improve the energy efficiency of existing homes in the Eynsham area to reduce overall energy consumption. This may involve providing incentives for homeowners to upgrade their insulation, heating systems, lighting, and appliances to more energy-efficient alternatives.
Exploring the use of community-owned renewable energy generation: The plan considers the potential for larger-scale community-owned renewable energy projects in the area. This could involve the installation of larger-scale solar panels, wind turbines, or other renewable energy sources owned and managed by the local community, which would contribute to doubling the area’s renewable energy generation.
A vision for future planning locally
As part of the Project LEO trials, the CAPZero plan was highly successful in breaking new ground by gathering input from a wide range of external experts. A key finding in producing the report is that this kind of multidisciplinary approach is important to ensure that the plan is comprehensive, well-informed and addresses the specific challenges and opportunities unique to the local area. And one of the learnings from CapZero was the need for a ‘Local Convener’ role that could expertly bring all these parties together.
While our trials explored a wide range of social and technical solutions to successfully launching smart local energy systems in communities, in particular, the outputs of the Enysham trial (i.e. the CapZero report) gave local councils, businesses and households some workable actions that can be taken now to help the area reach their net zero goals.
The learnings from this trial are being used to form new energy plans being formed at community levels. So we’re looking at a future where our energy is planned at both a local authority AND a community level, ensuring each area’s individual needs and strengths are identified.
We’re proud to have been part of this pioneering and inclusive project, that will shape our future energy planning to move towards a balanced system that efficiently generates, stores, and uses energy, paving the way for a cleaner, greener, and sustainable future for the local community and our society as a whole.
15th July 2023