Why does a place-based approach to smart energy systems matter?

The Prospering from the Energy Revolution programme has shown that a place-based approach to energy, including smart local energy systems, has great potential.

Posted on: 30/03/2023

Why we need energy-smart places

Watch the video below to find out why the UK needs, and can benefit from, energy-smart places.

During the last century, we became very good at building centralised energy systems, based on fossil fuels. In this world, energy mainly goes one way – from central bulk suppliers, to our homes and businesses. This is largely still the case.

The Prospering from the Energy Revolution programme looked at energy differently. It challenged the status quo, funding innovative trials and research on systems that can bring together energy supply, storage and use locally or regionally.

Now, these 80-plus projects have created the largest single body of evidence to date on smart local energy systems. The picture is clear:

  • There are potentially enormous gains from a place-based approach to energy, alongside national systems. Detailed research commissioned from PwC found that reaching carbon reduction targets this way could deliver double the socio-economic benefits, at half the cost, of a national ‘one size fits all’ approach.
  • The UK is committed to net zero by 2050. Wide rollout of local energy systems would provide more flexibility, efficiency, resilience and local buy-in. Without this, it is very hard to see how our energy networks can be upgraded – whether in time or affordably – to cope with the coming demand from electrified heating and transport. Local approaches must be part of the answer.
  • The insights from this programme show that smart local energy systems can ease costs to consumers, deliver value for communities, accelerate the journey to net zero, and improve energy security as regions become more self-sufficient.

There are still major barriers. Many are outlined in the Enabling Decentralised Energy Innovation report by Sustainable Energy Futures. Some are regulatory. Some are to do with the balance of national and local policy and planning. And some are about finance knowledge, skills, resources, capabilities and community engagement.

But there is no doubt that decentralised energy will be an inherent part of our future energy system. The Prospering from the Energy Revolution programme has confirmed that this represents a huge opportunity.

The UK now has a chance to unlock the full potential of joining up energy assets locally and regionally, using technology already available. We need to learn from the programme’s pioneers, overturn the status quo and do things differently; and we don’t have much time. But the potential benefits are too large to waste.


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