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Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Coordinating clean heat: learning from our workshops

This project aims to test a coordinated approach to the planning and delivery of low-carbon heat, considering how entire streets could make this switch together. By working with those already involved, we have been co-developing a blueprint outlining the steps and key players needed to deliver this plan. This policy blueprint will aim to bridge the gap between policy theory and real-world implementation.

A coordinated approach may be beneficial as the current, largely individual approach may not deliver at the speed required, may amplify constraints on local supply chains and may risk leaving certain households behind.

For the past few months, we have been engaging with stakeholders involved in the delivery of low-carbon heat. These have included community groups, householders, supply chain contractors, policymakers and local and national governments. 

What stage are we at now?

Our latest phase of work consisted of four workshops. These initially convened groups in Cardiff and Edinburgh to build on the work already underway in local area energy planning and were followed by further workshops in London and online.

During these workshops we shared our latest thinking, which built on our policy note summary published in February. We tasked the groups with trying to plan deliverable low-carbon heat schemes, then critiquing and co-creating a new version of the policy blueprint that we are in the process of creating. Our aim throughout has been to work in the open – we know our proposal will require iteration and likely have elements that need to be reconsidered entirely to ensure our policy proposal is as feasible as possible. 

During the workshop phase in Wales and Scotland, we were hoping to learn from the existing work already underway creating local plans for energy and heat, and to build an understanding of how we could take a further step towards delivering on these plans. We brought together over 100 people across the four workshops with various levels of expertise and involvement in the delivery of low-carbon heat, which enabled us to start identifying areas that need further consideration. 

We learnt a lot about the work already going on in this space, the support that would be required to start and deliver a coordinated switch, and have started to receive recommendations for areas we may want to pilot. This approach leant heavily on design methods and tools to convene and consider the complexity of the whole system that would be involved in planning and delivery. 

Conclusion

We are still in the process of synthesising the wealth of information from these sessions. However, to continue our practice of working in the open we can share some initial themes that will shape our future thinking. 

There is a gap between current energy planning and delivery 

Even within areas that already have local area energy plans (LAEPs), or local heat and energy efficiency strategies (LHEES) in Scotland, we heard that there was little work underway to deliver on these plans. This policy proposal could bridge the gap between planning and delivery and integrate with the planning work that is already underway at a national, regional and local level.

Household engagement is required throughout

Meaningful community engagement and democratic input from households should happen early in the process. It was suggested that this would help to raise awareness of the required changes to citizens’ homes and highlight potential and preferable options available to consumers. In addition,  for some areas that are suited to certain technologies, this may be enough to expedite the transition.

Identifying trusted voices and involving them throughout the project will help to ensure citizen engagement is successful. There should be consideration throughout the whole process and not just at selective parts – it should be clear when citizens are being consulted and at which points they are informed.

Build in adaptability and support supply chains

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to low-carbon heating schemes. The best design, technology, and delivery teams will depend on factors like location, housing types and local energy resources.

The policy blueprint should acknowledge this flexibility while aiming to minimise red tape and complexity. It can do this by providing frameworks, guidance and support.  Proposals should be flexible to adapt to suit specific areas, for example, they may just plan, incentivise and steer individual choice, or plan, tender and deliver coordinated switches.

The policy blueprint should also consider where the expertise for delivering these schemes exists. It should support building a local supply chain while also leveraging the national supply chain to ensure these schemes benefit from existing knowledge.

Ensure planning and coordination resource is built and supported at a local level

Support and resources would be required at a local level to enable granular planning and coordination, this would require support from national governments. Some of this could be in the form of template agreements, contracts and scheme design. Another form would be providing sufficient funding and resources to build expertise in-house, this expertise should include legal, technical, procurement and citizen engagement. Teams should be built that span stakeholder groups with a variety of interests; these could include, but not be limited to, representatives of the energy sector, local authorities, citizens, and economic and local development bodies.

Demonstrate the benefits of a coordinated switch

The transition from an individual-led approach to a more coordinated switch should be carefully considered, and pilots should be considered to de-risk suggestions in the policy blueprint. Running pilots will show what resources and processes are required, alongside the resulting benefits. Piloting approaches would also have an important role in documenting and publicising best practice to encourage households to sign up to future schemes. Therefore, any pilot schemes should be designed with scaling in mind from the offset.

The themes above are an initial read out from the workshops and our thinking is likely to develop further. Over the next month, we will be digesting and synthesising all of the input in more detail before publishing an updated policy blueprint later this year.

This work builds on the contributions of all who responded to our call for engagement earlier in the year. We would like to thank everyone for generously contributing their time and expertise.

Author

Andy Marsden

Andy Marsden

Andy Marsden

Designer, Design & Technology

Andy is a designer for the sustainable future mission.

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