Issue 6

ENERGY MASTER PLANNING AND SUSTAINABILITY

By Dave Anderson, Director, Radicalba ltd

The saying ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’ has been ascribed to Benjamin Franklin and Winston Churchill amongst others.  But, whatever its provenance, its relevance to the future of the UK’s energy supply is indisputable.  Ever since the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947, governments have managed the land-use planning system to balance the demands of economic development and environmental quality.  However, one constant throughout this time is that power supply has seldom been a serious constraint to new development.  The National Grid, powered largely by coal, gas and nuclear energy has provided a reliable source of relatively cheap electricity.  Where there hasn’t been an available ‘plug and play’ connection to the grid, developers may have had to fund the costs of a new sub-station or similar infrastructure, but no one has had seriously to worry about the lights going out.

But today we are entering a new paradigm for power generation and consumption that could be almost as profound in its impact as the transformation from mainframe computing to ubiquitous mobile devices.  There are several forces driving this change.  First, the Grid itself is moving away from reliance on a relatively small number of large coal, gas and nuclear power stations, many of which are coming to the end of their productive lifespans and being decommissioned.  Second, the imperative to transition to renewable, low carbon energy supply is changing the nature and diversity of the power sources supplying the grid and thirdly the Electricity Market Reform (EMR) White Paper of 2011 which set out key measures to attract investment, reduce the impact on consumer bills and create a secure mix of electricity sources including gas, new nuclear, renewables and carbon capture and storage will have a significant, although not yet entirely clear, impact on the operation of the energy sector.

today we are entering a new paradigm for power generation and consumption that could be almost as profound in its impact as the transformation from mainframe computing to ubiquitous mobile devices.

Planners in local Councils have become accustomed to managing changes in their environment and the process of preparing strategic and local plans is nowadays an almost never ending cycle of gathering evidence, forecasting growth trends and public consultation. 
However, the need to factor low carbon energy supply into the planning mix has not yet been fully developed; and there is a bewildering range of options, from city-wide, combined heat and power and district heating systems, to urban wind, energy from waste, biomass, micro-hydro schemes, wave and tidal power and off shore wind.

Cities will account for a large proportion of projected growth in global energy consumption and related carbon emissions in future, and electricity is forecast to account for an increasing share of our energy mix, as electric vehicles and massive data storage facilities expand.

If Scotland is to transition successfully towards a low carbon economy our cities will need to plan solutions and practices that encourage more intelligent, cleaner and more efficient energy systems.  Decentralised electricity generation will need to be an important part of such plans because they reduce energy losses associated with transmission and distribution.  

Energy master-planning is an emerging discipline that could become pivotal to developing the low carbon, urban communities of the future.  However, practical understanding of how to move towards a decentralised electricity generation network can be difficult to grasp for people who are not technical experts: rather like the range of choices on offer in the early mobile computing market.  The choices available in one city will also vary considerably from the next, according to extent of locally available, naturally occurring resources such as wind, solar, water and biomass.  In practice, it will be important to ensure that decentralised energy systems are properly aligned with investment by other utility infrastructure providers to avoid duplication of infrastructure and the associated costs and carbon emissions: gas and water supply, waste water treatment, rainwater and storm attenuation and district heating and cooling networks therefore need to be considered as part of a ‘one and done’ plan. 

the imperative to transition to renewable, low carbon energy supply is changing the nature and diversity of the power sources supplying the grid

Distributed, small-scale, renewable energy facilities also need robust, flexible electrical infrastructure and intelligent grid management to cope with variations in supply and demand.  But there could be real opportunities for Scotland to develop the ‘smart grids’ of the future through collaboration between our power companies, city authorities and ICT businesses.

Scotland has the potential to become a major generator of power by harnessing our natural resources and attracting investment in off shore wind, wave and tidal power, through grid-inter-connectors and related infrastructure.  But our transition to low carbon will also demand smaller-scale planning and action at the local level and our city authorities have a great opportunity to take ownership of their local energy practices, by working with the private sector to deliver sustainable, low-carbon solutions.

In future, energy master-planning may become part of the undergraduate programme of every Town Planning student and surveyor and, as the world moves to renewable energy, it will certainly need to feature prominently in their continuing professional development.

 

David Anderson is the Managing Director of Radicalba ltd, a management consultancy specialising in business strategy, leadership and development issues.  He is a non Executive Director of H2Energy Scotland, a Board Adviser to the World Cities Network and has held a number of senior executive roles in Scotland's economic development agencies as Chief Executive of Scottish Enterprise Dunbartonshire, Senior Director of Operations at Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh and Lothians, and Director of City Development with the City of Edinburgh Council.  www.radicalba.com

By Dave Anderson, Director, Radicalba ltd

Issue 6

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