Why a UK consortium is bidding on geospatial planning for net zero

Why a UK consortium is bidding on geospatial planning for net zero
London aerial. Courtesy 123rf.

The importance of systems planning is frequently recognised as a necessity for energy efficiency and informed decision making. And for the UK, where a stalled project pipeline is delaying low carbon deployment, an enhanced geospatial planning solution might provide respite for getting projects off the ground and accelerating the drive towards net zero in 2050.

A solution is being developed and bid for by a public/private consortium led by Advanced Infrastructure, a data science and software company in the UK.

Made up of Oxfordshire County Council, Dundee City Council, Perth and Kinross Council, as well as Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN), the consortium represents a broad industrial and governmental coalition to create a lower-cost digital solution to whole systems energy planning.

Their proposal is a low-cost digital solution in the form of spatial intelligence tools; a software service to help public and private organisations plan and optimise their infrastructure for a net zero future.

And for Christopher Jackson, Advanced Infrastructure’s co-founder and CEO, the importance of geospatial tools on the path to net zero is not to be underestimated.

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Said Jackson: ““The role of geospatial tools in the energy transition allows us to communicate between multiple energy vectors and stakeholder groups.

“The built environment and electricity networks are two stakeholder groups that are often misaligned. The geospatial boundaries representing the service areas of these organisations are very different: with housing stock, most of the politically-driven interventions are by census units of output areas; LSOAs (Lower Layer Super Output Area), MSOAs (Middle Layer Super Output Area), parishes, local authorities and regions.

“Whereas, in the energy sector, the geospatial unit of analysis are the energy meter points, feeders, transformers and grid connection points. Mapping between these two different geospatial topologies allows the two organisational structures to speak to each other and coordinate investments such as retrofits and new-builds.”

Identified constraints

By 2050, cities and local governments will influence over 80% of net zero carbon emissions targets.

However, in order to reach these targets, the UK needs to deploy £40 billion/year ($48.3 billion/year) of low-carbon infrastructure. The current investment into low-carbon infrastructure is only £4 billion/year ($4.8 billion) due to a stalled project pipeline.

According to interviews conducted by Advanced Infrastructure with over 100 local authority officers, one-third of energy projects are cancelled after the feasibility studies stage due to grid constraints.

This lack of data and knowledge of low-carbon technology potential at building-level costs authorities an average of £10,000 ($12,000) per project in avoidable costs.

Difficulty collaborating across organisational boundaries and accessing finance were also identified as major barriers by local authorities.

And although engineering consultants are often engaged by cities to fill capability gaps, the consortium flags that consultancies are unsustainably expensive for tasks such as stakeholder engagement and data gathering.

The proposed solution by the consortium will build on Advanced Infrastructure’s LAEP+ platform and include software tooling to allow low-skilled users to build complex geospatial queries to identify properties and sites suitable for different interventions.

A digital twin is aimed at reducing the skill level required to perform complex tasks such as optioneering/zoning, low carbon technology siting and new energy network connection requests.

LEAP+. Courtesy Advanced Infrastructure.

The solution also marks the coalition’s successful bid in the Innovate UK Net Zero Living programme, which will accelerate the development of local area energy plans and statutory Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategy (LHEES) in Scotland.

Phase 2 of the programme will support up to six cities with up to £5 million ($6 million) each to develop their low-carbon plans.

It will also do so for local energy projects by developing datasets and software solutions to overcome systemic barriers such as finance, capability, coordination of grid reinforcement and system governance.

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Smart meter data projects

The solution is not the only project driven by Advanced Infrastructure for an enhanced path to net zero.

The company has also been developing two smart metering solutions – one aimed at enhancing accurate monitoring of electricity demand and another to create a smart meter data repository.

The former is an 18-month research project alongside Sheffield University to use building-level smart meter data and machine learning techniques to predict the load on 90% of transformers in the UK, which are otherwise unmonitored by DNOs. This is hoped to allow the power networks to actively optimise capacity and flexibility management.

The latter is a technical solution, which will utilise machine learning research and aggregated smart meter data to reduce the cost of heating and powering homes.

Added Jackson: “The two most important data sets for the use cases of retrofits and new-builds are network connectivity and customer consumption. Low voltage networks are poorly mapped and often digital models of building-level connections to the energy networks are unavailable.

“Privacy and governance concerns are barriers to sharing customer consumption data. However, we believe these two datasets are the holy grail of energy data and access to them would bring system-wide benefits. And when we talk about open data in the energy sector, everything else is a very distant second.”

Each of the two projects has also gained its own sources of funding, the former through a successful bid in phase 9 of The Energy Entrepreneurs Fund (EEF) provided by the Department for Energy Security & Net Zero; the latter through a successful bid in the Smart Meter Energy Data Repository (SEDR) Programme, funded by BEIS prior to its separation.