The Landmark Practice, as part of a team with Regen, Pell Frischmann and the University of the West of England, was commissioned earlier this year by The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) SW to undertake research on planning for a smart energy future. The purpose of the research is to understand how planning can best support the UK’s transition to a smart energy future, and what is needed for spatial planning to adopt proactive, forward-looking and positive responses to technical and market opportunities as they come forward.


Climate Change Challenge

The science is indisputable that climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth will increase with global warming of 1.5°C, and increase further in response to a 2°C rise in temperature.

The shift to clean energy delivery is an essential element of the action needed to address climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body responsible for assessing the science related to climate change, earlier this year produced a critical report on how the world would be impacted by temperatures rising by 1.5C this century. The headlines of that report are that emissions of CO2 must be cut by 45% by 2030, and that society will have to be getting almost all of its electricity supply from renewables by the middle of the century.


The challenge for society

After two weeks of tight negotiations at the United Nations COP24 conference in Poland, the nations of the world agreed on 15 December on the ‘Paris Rulebook’, the set of international rules needed to help curb global warming. The COP24 agreement recognizes that essential action is not limited to delivering the shift to clean energy, although that, in itself, is proving immensely problematic for many nations.

A crucial point of the IPCC report that informed the agreement is that successfully limiting climate change to 1.5C needs rapid and simultaneous transformation of key systems – of energy generation, of land use and urban development, of industrial systems and processes, at the same time as a redirection of financial flows to support and encourage investments in low-emission infrastructure and buildings.


The challenge for planning

The planning system is fairly and squarely at the sharp end of this challenge.  Delivering the transition to clean growth requires fresh thought and a targeted and systematic approach to spatial planning.

Such an approach needs to address all development, from the macro scale, such as major project infrastructure, through delivery of an increasingly decentralized energy and energy storage system, greater use of heat networks and improved efficiency of all homes and buildings. Just as important as spatial planning at the macro scale is how planning will to deal with the details of development, and of retrofitting the existing built environment, at a local scale.  In already congested urban environments, for example, how will plan-making and development management deliver the best approach to accommodate the scale of electric vehicle (EV) charging points needed to enable phase out of the internal combustion engine?

Since September we’ve been talking with a number of stakeholders from the smart energy and planning sectors about these challenges.  Key themes are emerging from these discussions, including questions about what needs to be done to enhance existing opportunities within our multi-level planning system. What are the existing tools that can be used to streamline smart energy into planning? How can the benefits that smart energy can bring, such as delivering good quality housing, increasing employment opportunities and reducing transport congestion, be better communicated? How can Local Plans be made sufficiently flexible to plan for currently ‘unknown’ technologies? What is the appropriate level at which to consider different aspects of smart energy, and what does an effective energy policy look like?

Planning is delivered over a range of spatial and procedural levels, with determination of planning applications responding to policies set within Neighbourhood Plans, Local Plans, and Joint Spatial Plans across multiple authorities, and using a variety of planning tools, such as site allocations, energy masterplans and Local Development Orders.  The research is also considering how national planning policy is constraining or enabling a positive approach to smart energy in local planning, and how opportunities might be maximized to integrate smart energy in new development, existing buildings and infrastructure.

Update (July 2019)

The ‘Planning for a Smart Energy Future’ research paper has now been published. To view the paper and find out more about the project, please follow this link to the RTPI website.

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