This report outlines the challenges of modelling interactions between national and regional/local energy systems. It summarises the capability of selected UKERC models and identifies research gaps and areas for future model development.

Meeting the UK net zero target by 2050 will require decarbonisation across sectors and different scales of the energy system – national, regional, and local. Interactions between scales of the energy system go beyond technical components and flows of energy and involve people, institutions (finance, national-local governments etc) and potential tensions and feedbacks. To investigate these issues, we outline the challenges for modelling local and regional energy systems.

Technical challenges

The growth in distribution connected renewable electricity generation presents technical challenges for network operators and the regulator.  Networks that were designed as largely passive, one way, distributors of electricity to end users, must now act as not as two-way balancers of supply and demand. Additionally, the electrification of a significant proportion of heat demand increases the requirement for greater peak electricity capacity, further increasing the challenges of managing electricity network investment and incentivising distribution-level flexibility services. These challenges may lead to an increased focus on the role of local energy system planning and the integration between heat and power systems.

Interactions between technical modelling and societal interests

Numerous case studies reveal the gulf between engineering models and local authority approaches to energy and spatial planning, and difficulties in aligning with distribution network operators and developer responsibilities, timetables, and valuation metrics. Solutions cannot emerge from data, engineering models and technical innovation alone. Technical modelling and societal interests are inextricably interconnected.

The characteristics of selected UKERC energy system models

The capability of selected UKERC energy system models with a focus on modelling interactions between national and local energy systems is assessed. These models are at their core, optimisation models. The complexities of these selected models are described alongside the ability to represent regional and local energy systems.  Finally, we identify how the modelling tools can support specific research questions (i.e. mapping research questions to models) and summarise gaps and potential areas for development.

Key findings:

Appropriate spatial and temporal resolutions: As we move to a decarbonised energy system dominated by renewables and flexible demand side solutions there is an increased requirement for appropriate spatio-temporal model resolutions.

Increased complexity of energy systems: Greater emphasis is likely to be placed on modelling regional and local energy systems and their interactions with national/transmission networks. Additionally smart devices, electrical vehicles and distributive technologies are expected to grow within local and regional systems, this will increase modelling complexities and require careful representation to ensure tractable models.

Integrating human behaviour and social risks: local energy systems are where consumer behaviour interacts with decarbonisation policy, and where behavioural interventions or demand-side participation will be enacted. Integrating these behavioural aspects into techno-economic energy simulation and optimisation is complex but may reveal substantial new opportunities for alternatives to capital-intensive supply-side investment.