Local authorities across the UK are in a strong position to drive progress on cutting carbon emissions through Local Area Energy Planning (LAEP), an approach that translates a net zero goal into actionable steps through whole-system energy modelling and stakeholder-driven decision-making.

The process of creating and adopting a plan offers local authorities and combined authorities the chance to decarbonise their local area – faster and more cost-effectively. As we’ve seen first-hand working on LAEPs across the UK, a whole-system approach puts local authorities in control, engages all the right stakeholders and enables successful energy investments.

Decarbonisation requires big picture modelling

Achieving net zero requires answering a whole host of questions about today’s energy system and the net zero system of the future. How will we heat and power our homes, businesses and transport networks? What needs to change in housing policy, planning and procurement? Who needs to be involved in these decisions? LAEP addresses these questions by creating a joined-up, costed, spatial plan for how an entire local authority area (not just the council’s own operations) will move its energy systems towards net zero.

LAEP includes:

  • Gas, hydrogen, heating, cooling and electricity networks
  • All 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

Over the last decade, we’ve worked with the Energy Systems Catapult, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Ofgem, the Welsh Government and local governments on the research, concept development and implementation of LAEP.

LAEP’s whole-system approach considers the complex interactions and interdependencies between different parts of the energy system, covering energy demand, supply, management, storage and consumption. It provides the integrating framework and evidence to help energy policymakers make informed decisions and weigh up trade-offs in uncertain conditions. For example, in the Isle of Dogs, East London, we collected data and modelled building-level energy demand, supply and network constraints, electric vehicle demands and opportunities, and social factors. This enabled the council to identify different decarbonisation pathways, their costs and benefits and provide data to justify their business decisions.

Locally informed, locally owned

Including crucial stakeholders in the process – such as gas and electricity distribution network operators, transport authorities, housing associations and local businesses – is something that local authorities are well positioned to do. LAEP is far more effective, producing better outcomes for local people, when everyone involved contributes to the process. This is what happened in Pembrokeshire, when Arup worked with the local authority to develop a programme of local engagement including workshops, interviews and group discussions with representatives from the industrial, domestic, transport, tourism, and agriculture sectors. A people-centred approach, empowering local actors, in conjunction with our robust energy analysis, meant the LAEP gained unanimous agreement and Pembrokeshire County Council could begin taking steps to reduce emissions immediately.

Strategic, cost-effective investment in energy systems

Although LAEP is not a legal requirement for local authorities in England and Wales, Ofgem recommends that gas and electricity network operators work with them to create plans. If local authorities band together to plan – across combined authority areas, for example – the potential to accelerate decarbonised energy is even bigger and the process could be more efficient and cost-effective. This was the approach taken in Greater Manchester, where the Combined Authority, in collaboration with Energy Systems Catapult, developed Local Area Energy Plans across their ten local authorities to integrate smart technologies across heat, power and transport, and link together local demand with supply via local distribution and national transmission. The Greater London Assembly is also proposing to develop subregional evidence bases to inform local area energy planning led by boroughs, building on a pilot approach currently underway in west London.

When it comes to funding, whole-system energy modelling provides local authorities with the data and information they need to prepare applications for low-carbon projects. Since funding application windows can be as short as just four weeks, having that evidence base ready can make all the difference in meeting the deadline and securing investment to implement plans.

Build understanding and capability

Our experience delivering LAEPs in England, Scotland and Wales and has shown us that helping local authority clients make the most of LAEP involves more than just the technical modelling and visualisation skills required to create the plan.

It’s our job to help our local areas across the UK, to understand their future energy plans thoroughly, identify how they will be delivered (including how to develop strong business cases to secure the right investments) and build skills within a group of people in their organisation who can lead them forward. We’ve found that this building of understanding and capability is just as important as producing the written plan. It’s what will deliver the bold visions that so many local authorities have set out – ensuring they can find the right mix of energy solutions for their local area, and rapidly advance their journey to net zero in an affordable and equitable way.