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Net Zero East formally launches with webinar

The need to build from the ground level up, with the knowledge central policies alone will not deliver local development on net zero and decarbonisation, was one of the key takeaways from the formal launch of Net Zero East (NZE) on April 14.
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Net Zero East is developing support and analysis to facilitate and identify decarbonisation opportunities with local authorities and wider local stakeholders. Picture: Getty Images

Opening proceedings, NZE co-founder, Nigel Cornwall, set out how NZE’s starting point is that 2021 “can and must be a pivotal year”. Citing research from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, East Anglia faces using its entire carbon budget (129.1MtCO2e) within seven years from 2020 based on 2018 CO2 emission levels.

While there have been a series of watershed moments – the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, draft Sixth Carbon Budget, and Energy White Paper – specific actions and activities, clear ownership and joined-up programmes are needed. Local flexibility and local energy systems will be crucial, though require a catalyst, knowledge and place-based strategies, which is where NZE can come in.  

The launch was split into two parts, the first of which featured presentations from guest speakers: Guy Newey of the Energy Systems Catapult (ESC), Laura Sandys CBE of Challenging Ideas, and Ed Birkett of Policy Exchange. 

Newey spoke on Local Area Energy Planning (LAEP), drawing on how the next phase of decarbonisation will focus on transport and heating, both of which impact people and are geographically specific. ESC’s LAEP concept, based on the idea that every area is different, can support this and consists of three stages: obtaining data and mapping the local area; modelling a credible set of scenarios; and deep consultation with local stakeholders.

Considering the need to understand the particulars of local areas and working with people, Newey suggested groups such as NZE could be key in this area.

Sandys spoke on the need to consider the future energy system from the needs of localities, recognising that one size does not fit all. With it set to be very demand driven, Sandys set out a vision where energy requirements are anchored around local assets, which are optimised as much as possible, with rewards given for energy reduction instead of energy consumption.

A light touch national framework is needed, one that reflects that everyone is different and has devolution tools that allow and empower localities to take things forwards.

Birkett made the case for local electricity pricing, after summer 2020 had exposed flaws in the current electricity market with system balancing costs rising two thirds. National pricing, while working for the old system, does not work for a system where location matters, where wind and solar is concentrated in different regions and the network is frequently constrained.

It will continue to lead to higher costs, whereas local pricing would reflect local supply and demand for electricity, encouraging people to change the way they use electricity as well as encouraging coordination of energy projects. 

Attentions then turned to the work that is being carried out by NZE, with Nigel Cornwall reiterating the importance of driving things from the bottom up. Net zero is not something that should be done “to” communities, businesses and households. In the case of East Anglia, it is important to consider providing solutions not just for further decarbonisation of power, but for what is predominantly an agricultural economy, while recognising transport emissions have risen in the region in recent years and looking at opportunities in new agri-tech and aquaculture sectors – in short, there is a “huge palette” to work from. 

Charlotte Farmer of NZE spoke on the organisation’s work to build a suite of creative solutions for the East of England to deliver net zero. There is a need to give local authorities the support and funding to both achieve and expand on their current ambitions, something that could be done through a comprehensive climate action plan, something NZE will explore in greater depth next week, when publishing a report covering local authority plans that have been announced to date in the region. NZE has also been scoping regional carbon offsetting which can potentially stimulate and enable local net zero projects. 

Michael Brown of NZE then offered an insight into the new body’s local granular mapping work, which is set to culminate in a Net Zero Map, launching by autumn 2021, which will be a self-serve online mapping portal, allowing access to data libraries and download of valuable data and insight. It will have further layers developed and expanded across infrastructure, demand, generation, production, constraints, natural capital and socio-economics.

Benefits of mapping include the way in which it can bring data to life with the ability to visualise, how it can aid understanding of local attributes and characteristics, and integration of varying infrastructures and local variables, while it can also help to underpin Local Area Energy Planning. A call was made for all interested parties interested in the local mapping and data analysis to get in touch through mail@netzeroeast.uk  

Johnathan Reynolds and Nigel Cornwall summarised a selection of the organisation’s concept project, including Power Park Energy Hub and Egmere Enterprise Zone. Power Park Energy Hub will be a demonstration project positioned at the UK’s most easterly point. It will integrate renewable energy, energy storage, hydrogen for heat and grid injection and energy-use across Power Park tenants, Associated British Ports (ABP) Lowestoft, port users and vessels, Birdseye, First Bus and nearby domestic properties.

Development at Egmere Enterprise Zone would consider application of smart local energy systems, community tariffs, EV charging, retrofit and much more.

Net Zero East will now continue to develop support and analysis to facilitate and identify decarbonisation opportunities with local authorities and wider local stakeholders. It is continuing to populate the Net Zero East website with regular updates on local, national and international industry, technology and policy developments.

It is also keen to further engagement with local bodies and organisations to discuss thinking and priorities for the region in accelerating the transition to net zero by 2050. To get in touch, contact the team at Net Zero East at mail@netzeroeast.uk