Hub research to set out how local areas can maximise impact of Net Zero planning

Research from the North East and Yorkshire Net Zero Hub today sets out the skills and data local areas need to maximise the impact of their local Net Zero planning – and the digital tools which could help them.

The Hub, the partnerships of six regional Combined Authorities created by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero to support local areas with their Net Zero ambitions, commissioned the Energy Systems Catapult to produce a study into how Spatial and Temporal Modelling (STeM) can be deployed to help local authorities get the most out of their Local Area Energy Planning.

STEM offers a dynamic data-driven approach to local net zero which adapts to changing realities of places.

Many local authorities don’t have the capacity to develop energy plans and commission consultants – but these reports can quickly go out of date when local authorities are unable to make their own updates.

The report sets out the crucial tools, data and skills for a STEM approach to give local areas a more informed picture of where they are on their net Zero journey – and what tools may assist them.

The report states:

“The importance of Local Area Energy Plans for national and regional planning is clear. However, the resulting data model is only a snapshot in time. Therefore temporal capacity in Local Planning is required to ensure that the most accurate picture of local capacity and needs is provided… local energy systems are becoming increasingly dynamic… therefore an important ability of net zero strategic plans is the ability to respond to technological, political and local change”.

The research, which aims to identify the skills, capabilities, tools and data used in STeM to understand how these can be deployed at a local level concludes:

“There is demonstrable value in local Spatial and Temporal modelling… in terms of funding, identifying and delivering projects.

“There is consistent evidence that a whole system local area approach to energy planning is the most robust and economic and can provide greater social value than top-down approach. However, Local Authorities face significant operational, financial and technical barriers. Furthermore there is a growing need for dynamic delivery….and refreshability”

Amongst the report’s findings, researchers concluded:

  • Strategic Net Zero Planning can be supported by greater Spatial and Temporal Modelling – however specific capabilities needed vary from authority to authority. Local authorities have a range of needs for STeM – ranging from whole systems pathway creation as part of a Local Area Energy Plan process to tactical visualisation for project delivery.
  • There is a need for standardisation of strategic planning/Net Zero data to ensure consistency among local authorities and interoperability of their local plans with regional plans.
  • Pathway modelling tools can inform project delivery and support funding/investment by providing strategic context.
  • Visualisation, stakeholder engagement and basic scenario planning tools could support operational planning invaluable to project delivery.
  • Different local government organisations could host different STeM capabilities to make the most of their convening power, geographic coverage and funding models.

What is Spatial and Temporal Modelling (STeM)?

STeM is data-driven model with fixed targets (such as Net Zero in a local area by a certain date) which can explore a range of credible pathways over time and can be updated against local reality.

The research concludes:

“Spatial and Temporal Modelling is critical to strategic Net Zero planning… (and) provides a powerful evidence base to help organisations plan for uncertainty and inform the decisions required to achieve a secure and low-carbon energy supply”.


What does the research suggest are the needs of local areas with regards to strategic Net Zero planning?

  • The research highlights fragmented datasets – often driven by isolated funding streams – and siloed data architecture within and amongst local authorities.
  • While many areas are using elements of STeM to support strategic Net Zero planning, many face barriers to implementing it, including lack of awareness, lack of capacity and capability ease of refreshability/dynamic use, lack of consistency of input data and differing levels of appetite across authority.
  • There is a range of maturity levels across local authorities where it comes to GIS/data/modelling skills.
  • There was a desire for an affordable, accessible data store for strategic net zero planning.
  • Local authorities saw value in tools which do not require third parties/expert-user training.
  • LAEP outputs are not updated regularly against local changes.

What tools are currently available?

The research also carried out an assessment of the current commercial landscape of STeM tools.

The research concluded that “currently there is no tool available which meets all the identified STeM needs of the local authorities, combined authorities and Net Zero Hubs”.  

Karen Oliver Spry, Hub Manager for the North East and Yorkshire Net Zero Hub commented:

“There’s a growing awareness in local areas about the value of data in anticipating future energy needs and assessing the most effective ways of meeting them – but also concerns within local authorities that they may lack the skills or even capacity to take advantage and that some solutions will only give them snapshot of those needs in one exact moment that they cannot adapt to reflect local changes and circumstances.

“This report is an important first step in addressing those concerns and helping local authorities to maximise the impact of their Net Zero planning.

“What really stands out for me is how the report highlights the clear relationship between effective Net Zero planning and attracting funding and investment in projects by providing strategic context – something else our stakeholders have told us is of great importance to them.”

The research will be formally launched at a first-of-a-kind partnership event between the North East and Yorkshire Net Zero Hub and Northern Powergrid, which takes place on Wednesday June 5th at the Park Inn in York.

Places at the event are limited – but you can apply for a place here.

Click here to view in initial resources from this research.