Devolved energy policy and funding would serve decarbonisation best, 60 academics - including Dr Jeff Hardy - who form the EnergyRev research, will tell BEIS.

The local approach to energy policy and funding continues to gather momentum. A consortium of 60 academics across 22 universities will urge BEIS to view a post-pandemic recovery package through a smart local energy systems lens, which they say could be an effective way to bring about the transition of the energy system to achieve net zero emissions and economic growth and wider local benefits.

The EnergyRev research consortium, which includes Imperial College London University College London and Strathclyde University amongst its number, is preparing its submission to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee super inquiry on Post-Pandemic Economic Growth, due in early September.

The consortium is involved in research around smart local energy systems and funded by UK Research and Innovation as part of the UK Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s Prospering from the Energy Revolution (PFER) programme.

Dr Jeff Hardy, a senior research fellow at the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, at Imperial College London, says that the EnergyRev consortium has analysed a number of position papers produced on bolstering the economic recovery through decarbonisation in its submission.

He says that in analysing the dozens of position papers from a variety of different organisation four key themes emerged:

  • Energy efficiency and retrofitting buildings
  • zero carbon heat
  • low carbon mobility, including active travel
  • deployment renewable electricity generation and network infrastructure

“Also, in these papers what was also apparent is how organisations were linking their proposals for economic recovery around wider benefits like health benefits from warmer homes,” he says.

Hardy says that there is a growing understanding that one size does not fit all, especially around the decarbonisation of heat. “If you look at all the all of these proposals what becomes apparent is that they would be best served by taking a more local approach, because they could be introduced more successfully through trusted local ‘actors’ who understand the local situation – including local authorities, community groups – which can provide  better routes to bring the energy elements together holistically.”

This chimes with a major report published last month by the UK100 Group (made up of all major local authorities) which sets out a huge scale of opportunity for city authorities to drive the green agenda and a potential £100 billion in local energy projects.  SSE has also made the case recently for utilities to join forces with councils to decarbonise heat 

“There are 29 million homes and 35 million vehicles. The investment needed to decarbonise is substantial. Yet most people are not engaged with energy – so the idea that in the future they will be asked to change their heating system may well come as an unwelcome shock – we need to engage on this soon and thoroughly.

“It makes sense to work with organisations that understand the local need.”

“We have a habit of doing everything through a centralised approach, but to be more effective we likely need to devolve responsibility and funding.”

Hardy says that there would still be a role for government and National Grid.” This is a whole system transformation; it will require action nationally and locally.  What I’m really saying is do the right thing at the right scale.”

He also says that we must learn from projects such as the UK Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s Prospering from the Energy Revolution (PFER) programme, which has invested in four large scale local energy system demonstrators across the UK. Ten whole-system design projects have also been funded that develop novel concepts for energy provision and create a pipeline for future projects. These demonstrator and design projects will help to prove investable, scalable local business models using integrated approaches to deliver cleaner, cheaper energy services.

Decarbonisation of heat will be one of the issues debated at Utility Week’s Build Back Better Forum October 20-21 – a digital event to explore the role and shape of utilities in the world beyond coronavirus