reaching net-zero
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Anthony Donoghue, Principal Engineer and Power Systems team lead at WSP, highlights what role local authorities play in reaching net-zero targets

In May 2019, the Committee on Climate Change published its vision for the United Kingdom to become a net-zero greenhouse gas contributor. In response, the UK became the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has put forward a more ambitious target of 2045 to reach a net-zero society.

The potential consequences associated with global climate change are well understood and support is growing around the world to act to prevent these before permanent and irreversible damage is inflicted upon the environment. Protest groups are growing in strength with Extinction Rebellion holding demonstrations internationally and demanding that action is taken now.

As such, the net-zero target which has been written into law is a positive sign that policymakers are beginning to stand up and pay attention. However, to achieve this ambitious goal, all stakeholders within the energy market must collaborate closely to jointly create a future energy system which is low carbon whilst minimising the cost of the transition away from fossil fuels. Energy regulators, suppliers, generators, aggregators, distribution and transmission system operators and the “prosumer” all have an important role to play in allowing the UK to reach its net-zero target.

It is becoming clear that local authorities will also have a crucial role to play if these ambitious targets are to be met by 2050. Various local authorities across the UK have responded to the Government’s targets by voicing their intentions to become net-zero ahead of 2050 target date. Indeed, both Glasgow and Edinburgh City Councils have signalled their ambitions to become the United Kingdom’s first net-zero city, with the latter aiming for 2030.

So why are local authorities so important in the fight against global warming?

Climate change is a global challenge but individual local authorities must develop clear strategies to ensure that the causes of global warming are addressed within their area. Each region is best placed to drive emission reductions due to their unique positioning and awareness of local challenges and opportunities, whilst promoting the needs of the local communities that they serve.

The rise of the “prosumer”

The energy system within the UK is fundamentally changing with the rise of the “prosumer” – those consuming and producing energy – and the increasing uptake of various Low Carbon Technologies (LCTs). The electrification of both heat and transport is expected to bring significant challenges to the electricity distribution system and could lead to increasing energy costs for consumers if it is not managed efficiently. Consequently, a holistic view of the energy system is now becoming more important than ever, where all energy vectors are coordinated together as one efficient, low-cost system with the “prosumer” at its heart.

Local authorities are well placed to bring industry and community stakeholders together to ensure that a coordinated whole energy system approach is taken across the energy vectors within their regions which represents the lowest cost to their local communities.

Regional energy strategies

By developing regional energy strategies, local authorities can drive the decarbonisation of their regions collaboratively with all key stakeholders and track progress against targets. Working together with industry and consumers will allow local authorities to create these detailed plans which describe exactly how their region should best decarbonise based on their individual challenges, whilst encouraging economic growth and addressing fuel poverty.

Additionally, the rise of the “prosumer” brings opportunities for local authorities to unlock hidden revenue for local communities by aggregating energy assets together as one, and providing services to the Distribution System Operator (DSO) in response to price signals and local flexibility auctions. By empowering the “prosumer” of the future, local authorities can play their part in becoming carbon neutral whilst putting the needs of local communities at the heart of the transition to a low carbon society.

WSP’s intention is to support local authorities with this goal to design their own smart regional energy systems which balance the need to become net-zero with local economic pressures and the need to reduce energy bills and avoid fuel poverty.


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