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New thinking: the changing role of cities and local energy

Nigel Cornwall Director

It is now widely accepted that the transformation of the UK energy system is well-underway with changes to technologies and business models, as well as evolving consumer preferences, challenging many of the principles and structures of the existing centralised and supply focussed energy system. At the same time, there is growing consensus that local approaches to energy system change are becoming more important. This article reviews the changing focus in the UK on the local dimension of energy system change and emphasises the potential for energy decarbonisation to progress at different speeds, and deliver very different outcomes, in different areas of the UK. Local roots Given the need for rapid and coordinated change across the UK in order to meet climate change commitments, the renewed focus on local energy systems needs to go beyond local experimentation and think about how the roles and relationships between different scales of governance should develop to make sure decarbonisation delivers for everyone in the UK. The term ‘local energy’ tends to refer to a wide range of projects – across supply and demand, and at a range of scales – which are united by being coordinated at a sub-national scale through local and combined authorities, distribution network operators, community groups and industry partnerships. Local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) tend to play an important coordinating role in such approaches and there is extensive history of local action on climate and energy in the UK and globally. But while government policy documents ...

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