This briefing from Jess Britton and Jan Webb maps and compares the institutional frameworks for local energy systems in England, Scotland and Wales. Findings show differences in actors and the development of new institutions, but a common emphasis on local energy planning.

Local energy systems (LES) are subject to increasing policymaker and industry attention. Whilst there is some debate about boundaries and components, such systems generally refer to locally integrated systems for heat, power, mobility, storage and flexibility services. LES could deliver a range of local and whole system benefits, however the development of more locally optimised and place-based energy systems will be closely influenced by the institutional frameworks in place to support them. This briefing examines and compares the existing institutional landscapes for LES across England, Scotland and Wales. It draws on a documentary review and stakeholder interviews to establish how key organisations, powers and relationships are shaping LES development across Great Britain.

Key Findings

  • The potential benefits of LES were widely acknowledged, but institutional frameworks to support development are fragmented and underdeveloped.
  • Local energy planning was identified as a route to connecting the local and whole system benefits of LES. However, a lack of a consistent and coordinated approach, particularly in England, limits effectiveness.
  • Local authorities were consistently placed as central to LES development through their role in coordinating actors and planning across vectors, and their understanding of local challenges and benefits. However they are constrained by resources and capabilities.
  • DNOs are critical resource holders but their relationship with other LES actors is not sufficiently institutionalised. There are particular challenges around data sharing and granularity.
  • Regulatory uncertainty and the fragmented funding landscape promotes short-term experimentation rather than strategic planning.

Sources of divergence

  • There is evidence of Scotland and Wales constituting their own approach to local energy systems but this is constrained by slow change in GB electricity regulation and markets.
  • Actor networks vary between England, Scotland and Wales. There was less diversity of actors in England, where central government played a key role in shaping relations. Scotland has a more diverse group of LES actors, based on long-term relationships between the Scottish Government and a range of NGOs. In Wales the Welsh Government is playing an important role in driving action at local level through centrally funded, but locally delivered, schemes.
  • Institutional change in support of LES also differs. In England institutional change has been limited, with an emphasis on promoting LES through innovation support. In Scotland there was greater evidence of institutional development to support LES by establishing: a duty for local authorities to prepare Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategies (LHEES); a Public Bodies Climate Change Reporting Duty; a Just Transition Commission, and the forthcoming National Energy Agency. In Wales there was less institutional change with activity focussed around pivotal institutions, particularly the Welsh Energy Service, and Government support for the integration of local and regional energy planning.
  • Wales and Scotland place stronger emphasis on heat, community energy and social objectives in their approaches to LES, partly as these are areas where they have formal powers to influence activity.