Effective carbon reduction approaches for large developments, Worcestershire councils, Midlands Net Zero Hub

A main role of the Midlands Net Zero Hub is to provide resource capacity and support to meet council gaps in expertise and time.

The challenge

Local electricity grid quality can be a key barrier whether it is mid-level generation for solar, heat pumps or combined heat and power. Councils often do not have visibility of grid quality and it is therefore considered with District Network Operators (DNOs) on a development by development basis. For example, once councils go to the DNOs they may push back given cost or availability to connect – but at this point the work may have already progressed too far with commitments made, land secured and tenders provided. This limits the resulting types of occupiers and land use activities and negatively impacts the delivery of net zero aspirations.

Large scale developments have also been subject to limited developer interpretations of the stated need for them to consider carbon and energy reduction approaches. Local authorities have often found themselves on the back foot with developers and their technical responses..

The solution

A main role of the Midlands Net Zero Hub is to provide resource capacity and support to meet council gaps in expertise and time. Expertise was provided to Worcestershire to change this relationship with developers. Firstly, by working with the Local Enterprise Partnership to look at substations early in the process and undertaking a mapping exercise, highlighting key substations with constraints.. This has enabled Worcestershire councils to re-examine and look at their development sites for where substations are marked red (no capacity) and green (capacity) and this can then be used to lobby the DNOs to improve the no capacity areas. This work is the first step in producing a county wide ‘Local Area Energy plan.

Expertise has also improved the scope, delivery and outcomes from developers by enabling councils to undertake robust feasibility tests of development plans. Meaningful engagement is undertaken to define terms and to test developer provisions, architectural drawings and estimates for energy efficiency. Through this, there can be refinement of what is possible and outcomes can ultimately be improved. Expertise has provided the capability to assess carbon saving scenarios and capacity requirements, as well as modelling alternative renewable sources. This can feed into site master-planning and earlier DNO discussions on capacity.

The impact

This approach can help align council aims for net zero with wider aims of attracting inward investment, delivering homes and employment land. For a specific major development site in Worcestershire, it has changed the scope of delivery at an early enough stage to maintain feasibility for renewable and energy efficiency solutions through the development phases.

Lessons learned

  • Clearly defining outcomes and terms at the outset with developers and key stakeholders is critical.
  • Limited early decision-making can then make it too costly to make improved energy efficiency interventions, such as heat networks - robust and early feasibility testing is crucial.
  • There are important interplays between energy efficiency interventions at the local level. For example, without cooperation the provision of a solar farm in one site may impact grid capacity to the extent that it halts the provision of other interventions (such as roof solar PVs) elsewhere and damage fuel poverty outcomes. A lack of cooperation between sites can create missed opportunities for (cheaper) local energy generation to be fed back to households.