How local authorities can play a crucial role on the Road to Net Zero

Local authorities don’t usually garner much sympathy, but it’s hard not to feel some empathy for the challenges they face in the 2020s.

Not only do they have to facilitate greater connectivity across towns and cities, but they must contend with the demands of an aging population and help us all transition to a net zero carbon world.

As the drive to decarbonise heat, transport and power gathers momentum, local authorities are becoming centre stage in the net zero challenge. This would be daunting enough for most organisations, but local authorities must do so with serious budgetary constraints.

It’s one thing for a town or city to declare a climate emergency; but quite another for a local authority to do something about it. So here at SSE Enterprise we’ve come up with a few pointers designed to help at least get on the road to net zero:

  1. Decarbonising Heat

The key challenge with moving away from our gas centric heating system is the number of homes technically and commercially accessible by a piped heat network. Low carbon heat conversion can be increased by the utilisation of in-building heat pumps although even these come with their own challenges: space and cost being the two most notable.

  1. Decarbonising Transport

Next consider transport. In general, EV uptake is hampered by range anxiety due to a lack of EV chargers. Similarly, EV charger rollout is hampered by lack of EVs. So, options for a Local Authority are:

  • Local Authority Funded – Requires the local authority to take a hit on charger utilisation/returns so it’s unlikely to be an attractive option.
  • Third party funded – This may require allowing the third party to cherry pick lucrative sites which could have negative implications for the social divide.
  • EV Charge Hubs – EV chargers, combined with renewable generation and storage that are commercially viable if deployed intelligently with other solutions. For example, at a Park and Ride with rapid chargers. ‘Valet charging’ could be used to maximise a small number of chargers. The chargers could be powered by a battery which is topped up by a renewable power source, hence ensuring cheap, green energy. Finally trade the battery to provide additional income and throw in some retail revenue, such as a café, for good measure. This is an interesting model that SSE Enterprise is actively pursuing.
  • The Stick – Finally, if the carrot doesn’t work! Local Authorities will need to consider banning/restricting all non-electric cars from town and city centres
  1. Powering the Transition

To support the above electrification of heat and transport requires sufficient capacity in the underlying electrical network. If there is insufficient capacity to connect a new electrical asset then, either the investment would need to come from the entity trying to connect the asset or that entity may need to wait years for additional capacity. This is likely to deter low carbon developers from investing in the area.

A solution that SSE Enterprise is exploring is to build a private network that works with the underlying public electrical network. To make such an endeavour feasible would require local authority support in planning, the provision of anchor load and the encouragement of additional load and generation to connect, such as in-building heat pumps; hence maximising low carbon heat penetration.

  1. Share and share alike

The final part of the jigsaw that a local authority can enable involves the concept of shared trenching. A local authority is now seeing an unprecedented number of services requesting to dig up its streets – fibre, heat, electricity network, EV.

By working in partnership with developers, it is uniquely situated to drive shared trenching and with it a reduction in overall infrastructure cost.  If you are digging a trench, consider at the very least including a duct for future fibre. If you are installing fibre, private wire, or heat, then explore the option to share the trench with EV chargers, and so forth.

To make the above a success it necessarily needs to all be tackled as a single integrated energy system. This means joining up the silos within the local authority and working with industry to provide a unified solution to decarbonisation, optimised across heat, power and transport vectors. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.


(This blog originally appeared in Utility Week:

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