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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

A national LAEP forward – hastening ‘place-based’ decarbonisation efforts


8 min read

View of a village in a rural setting Photo: Adobe Stock
Local area energy planning takes a system wide view of energy supplies, distribution and loads in an area or region

Photo: Adobe Stock

Think globally: act locally – the most effective way to decarbonise a town or community is to design a locally-appropriate strategy. This can be particularly the case for domestic heating. Here, Andrew Clark, Business Leader – Place at UK Energy Systems Catapult, explains how ‘place-based’ local area energy planning is already happening.

Reducing UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the scale and pace required to achieve net zero by 2050 means taking a holistic approach to decarbonisation. All areas of our lives – from where we live and work, to where we play – must be factored into the delivery of a low carbon future. On a local level, we will need to adopt localised sources of decarbonised heat, renewable power, and low carbon transportation, and operate them as a whole system.  


There is no quick fix. A myriad of hurdles – from financial barriers to consumer understanding – stands between us and net zero. We do not have time to dither and delay.  


Across the UK, individuals, communities, businesses, and public sector bodies are taking the right – sometimes incremental – steps forward, including rolling out EV charge points, installing ground and rooftop solar arrays, and fitting low carbon heating solutions such as heat pumps.  


While these are positive actions, in the absence of a clear path to net zero, they can be opportunistically delivered. However, by approaching the delivery of net zero in the context of a strategic plan, we can join the dots and make a greater impact on our low carbon ambitions.  


Local hurdles to net zero  
Over 83% of local authorities have formally declared climate emergencies across the UK (340 out of 409 councils), and many have announced net zero targets. However, more than one in five have no climate action plan in place. There is no mandate for local authorities to deliver net zero. This has led to a wide variation in approaches, capability, capacity, and resources designated to support decarbonisation efforts.


Local authorities also do not have direct influence over the energy infrastructure investment in their areas, which is an essential enabler of local decarbonisation ambitions. This can cause a disconnect between spatial planning (eg housing development) and energy planning (eg investment in the local electricity distribution network).


This is a remarkable situation to find ourselves in. Here we have a majority of local councils across the UK recognising the challenge posed by the climate crisis but lacking centralised funding or guidance on how they should respond. This creates a challenge for individual places to develop a plan to net zero which responds to their unique characteristics and ambitions, while sitting within the national policy context, and creating the scale of intervention which can attract investment and stimulate supply chain development.


LAEP into action  
In response to this challenge, we pioneered Local Area Energy Plans (LAEPs), a stakeholder driven and evidence-based approach that uses whole systems thinking to identify the best route for a local area to achieve net zero.


An 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 GHG emissions, as well as the projected consumption in a defined area to 2050, 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.


An 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 


LAEP in Peterborough  
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.


In Peterborough for example, a climate emergency was declared 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 emissions.


The plan divided Peterborough into 10 zones based on areas served by primary electricity substations, rather than any political or geographical boundary. Dividing Peterborough into ten zones was necessary owing to the distinctions between urban/rural and commercial/residential areas that require different decarbonisation solutions.


The LAEP demonstrated that meeting a net zero target of 2040 would require investment of £8.8bn 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.’  


Without LAEP, there will be a disjoint between the needs and ambitions of local areas and network infrastructure investment, and a lack of consideration of how local contexts differ within the national policy approach. Altogether this will likely result in net zero being delayed, higher costs of decarbonising, and missing out on the some of the co-benefits of decarbonisation.


Heat pumps and homes 
Having a plan in place is only part of the solution. Arguably, the hardest part follows; namely, turning an intangible plan into a tangible reality for consumers and communities at the scale and pace required to meet our net zero ambitions.


Reducing our GHG emissions means tackling emissions in our homes, communities, and local places. 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 carbon dioxide every year from heating alone.


Consumers are rightly curious about what the future of home heating looks like and the impact it will have on their lifestyles. 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.


We also need to be honest with consumers about the options that are available. Heat pumps are a valuable alternative to gas boilers. While we wait to see what the outcome is for the domestic use of hydrogen (a government decision is expected in 2026), we should be acting now to progress the adoption of electrical heating.


This is the goal of the Electrification of Heat Demonstration Project, which 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 (DESNZ), aimed to install up to 750 heat pumps in a variety of housing archetypes such as flats, terraces, and semi-detached homes, with Warmworks, E.ON, and OVO Energy, appointed as the delivery contractors in the South East of Scotland, North East of England, and the South East of England respectively.


With over 8,000 expressions of interest, householders were certainly not shy about voicing their support for, and interest in, heat pumps.


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 – in most cases this was loft insultation.


With an understanding of the types of retrofit measures required in homes and the impact this has on the deployment of heat pumps, we can work to overcome barriers to the rollout of low carbon heating solutions such as public perception and cost – before they cause an insurmountable challenge. For local authorities, knowing the types of homes that may need deep retrofit measures will play an important role in creating a place-based approach to decarbonisation.


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.


Local Authorities are best positioned to lead and own LAEPs as they are motivated to drive net zero at local scale and are trusted, impartial organisations. They have the influence to promote the plan outputs, realising investment from a wide range of developers, and ensure there is alignment with the needs of the local area.


A national LAEP forward would end the ad hoc rollout of technologies and disparate planning processes that hold back our decarbonisation efforts, our economy, and our communities. Providing local authorities with the support they need to deliver a LAEP, and the clarity and consistency of approach, can help to convene a collective, pragmatic plan to reach net zero in their places.


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