Smart Local Energy Systems: From innovation project to mainstream local climate action

Smart Local Energy Systems: From innovation project to mainstream local climate action

By Rebecca Ford, EnergyREV Research Director, University of Strathclyde

As we inch closer to COP26 in November, there seems to be an increasing amount of attention on place-based climate action. In December last year, along with their 6th Carbon Budget, the CCC published a report on the role of Local Authorities in delivering the necessary emissions reductions. Earlier this month the Scottish Just Transition Commission published their final report outlining how the nation could ensure an equitable transition to net-zero, with many of their 24 recommendations centred around place based action. And three quarter of UK Local Authorities have now declared climate emergencies.

However, a recent report from the Place Based Climate Action Network (PCAN) highlights that despite the attention on the role of place in delivering net-zero, and the corresponding climate emergency declarations, there is limited action; Strategies and policies for delivering on local net-zero targets - many of which are ahead of the UKs 2050 target - are lacking. And where they do exist, they tend to focus mainly on mitigation solutions such as renewable energy, transport, buildings, and natural solutions, as well as jobs, finance and green recovery. The PCAN report shines a light on the missing focus on adaptation, but I think we also need to be looking at the opportunities for smart local energy systems (SLES) in support local area action plans for delivering net-zero.

The Prospering from the Energy Revolution (PFER) programme has funded 3 large scale demonstration projects and 10 detailed design projects, all investigating the way in which SLES can drive down carbon emissions and unlock wider local and national co-benefits. To do this, SLES tend to rely on "smarter" and more flexible use of local resources and better energy asset planning and network management, underpinned by digital infrastructure and more effective use of data. Put simply, a smart local energy system cannot maximise positive outcomes (and deliver the wide range of anticipated benefits) unless it has access to the right sort of data at the right time to allow the system to be appropriately controlled. The way in which digital infrastructure is designed, and the types and format of data it has access to, is critical to meeting local needs and climate targets. And if this is the case, surely digital architecture and data access is fundamental to delivering local climate action. Yet there seems to be a gap between the innovation across the PFER programme, and the development of local energy solutions to meet net-zero, driven by Local Authorities.

Understanding how to close this gap and embed key learnings from the PFER programme in local climate action plans will be key to ensuring wide scale roll out of successful solutions. These insights cover a wide range of topics, as can be seen from the plethora of industry and policy focussed reports produced by the consortium. And over the next year EnergyREV will be ramping up our efforts to synthesise insights from different work-streams across the programme around key topic areas, providing insights into how SLES could form part of the UKs net-zero landscape outside of innovation funded and fairly niche projects. Our first topic will focus on the digital landscape, and the way that digital infrastructure needs to be developed to drive flexible, scalable and replicable smart local energy systems, capable of meeting local needs and national priorities. So make sure you're signed up to our mailing list to stay on top of these emerging insights, and to hear more about our webinars, our Governance Insights Lunchtime Seminar Series, and to be notified when we release new reports.