Western Power Distribution (WPD), the electricity distribution network operator (DNO) for the Midlands, South West and South Wales, has launched a project that works together with local authorities in south west England and other energy network companies to lower carbon/achieve net zero carbon emissions and protect the environment. Its Energy Planning Integrated with Councils (EPIC) project will explore whether a combined approach to energy planning can provide greater benefits for local authorities and utility companies. The £540,000 Network Innovation Allowance funded project, will see WPD, gas company Wales & West Utilities, local authorities in the South West, Power Systems Consultants (PSC), energy consultants Regen and EA Technology work together to develop a tool to allow the investment plans for energy networks and the local authorities to be jointly analysed to identify potential synergies.
In the current process to create Distribution Future Energy Scenarios (DFES), utility companies consult local authorities who provide input into the process. However, DFES are based on national scenarios and do not wholly adopt or incorporate local authorities’ longer term strategic plans. This can lead to different expectations for future energy requirements between the local authority and utility companies. EPIC is seeking to develop a standardised process and tool that can be used with different local authorities to create a more accurate, local energy plan.
The project will look to develop an agreed process for identifying and analysing energy plans in relation to increased uptake in electric vehicles, small scale renewable generation, the decarbonisation of heat, improvements to building energy efficiency and installation of heat networks.
Commenting on the project, project lead Jenny Woodruff Low Carbon and Innovation Engineer at Western Power Distribution comments “EPIC, is exploring whether we can streamline and standardise the local energy plan process and whether it will result in benefits for local authorities and utility companies. The project will hopefully lead to the greater use of local authority data in utility company investment plans and allow networks to take a more strategic view for future investment plans.
“Over the coming decades we are going to see growing demand on the energy networks as we experience a significant increase in the installation of low-carbon technologies and their use by customers. To match this demand, millions will need to be invested across energy networks as well as wider investments from local authorities and utility companies. Creating a coordinated process will help to deliver cost efficiencies as well as ensuring we have all the pieces of the puzzle in place when the demand comes.”
Wales & West Utilities System Operation Manager, Bethan Winter, says: “If the UK is going to get to Net Zero in a way that is affordable and sustainable, we must adopt a whole system approach, making the best use of our safe and reliable gas and electricity networks.
“Across the UK decarbonisation solutions will be different, so a local approach is essential if communities are going to be able to play their part in decarbonisation. We’re pleased to be part of the EPIC project, bringing together utilities and local authorities to create a combined approach to energy planning.”
Three areas in the South West of England will trial the process and supported tool. Experts on regional local authorities are providing expertise to help ensure that the planning process developed during the project can be applied more generally across local authorities. Energy consultants Regen will lead on determining how the different planning processes can be aligned so that local authorities and utilities plans are based on a common view.
Having agreed on a future energy scenario, the impact on utility networks will then be modelled to identify the location and timings of required network investments to support the predicted energy consumption. These investments will be assessed to optimise the potential benefits to all parties and will be further assessed on whether the combined plans will deliver additional benefits versus the separate processes currently used.
PSC will be providing a new tool for automated high voltage network assessment while EA Technology will be adapting their Network Investment Forecasting Tool to analyse the low voltage networks in the trial areas. While strategic network planning, including stakeholder engagement, is routine for the networks operating at or over 33kV, it is hoped that modelling the high and low voltage networks will provide results that reflect changes at a local neighbourhood level that are easier for local authorities to relate to their own plans.
The tool is expected to assess the long-term cost to the consumer and support regional strategic development goals, such as decarbonisation and supporting local jobs. The project is expected to last for 20 months