Smart local energy systems: A policy development case study

Local energy is one of the main themes in Scotland’s energy transition. The aim is for community involvement and ownership that not only offers renewable energy but also develops local jobs and skills.

However, developing the local energy sector has been a significant policy challenge. In 2013 a stock take showed that only 44% of initiated projects made it through to being operational. This was the backdrop to ClimateXChange’s first project looking at how to deliver the local energy ambition – Community energy in Scotland: the social factors for success. Identifying the factors that made some projects succeed – for example the importance of existing community groups, motivation beyond financial gain, and support from the local council and planning department – was a key first step in developing the policies that have seen Scotland exceed the 2020 target for 500Mw of community and locally own energy.

The initial project had a multi-discipline research team using existing empirical research, theories and ideas to enter into dialogue with those responsible for developing policy. The findings from the report were presented as part of a Festival of Social Science event in 2013, bringing a range of new stakeholders together to look at possible implications for a range of policy areas across finance, planning and community empowerment. Combining these perspectives resulted in new approaches to policy, generating further research questions and building multi-disciplinary expertise.

As a result ClimateXChange has contributed research evidence at critical stages of Scotland’s local energy policy:

  • Reports for the Community Energy Policy Statement
  • Panel members for the Local Energy Challenge Fund
  • Informed guidance on shared ownership of onshore renewables
  • Framed good practice guidance on public engagement for sub-20Mw wind turbine developments
  • Secondment to the Scottish Government Energy Strategy and Renewables Routemap team in preparation for the draft Energy Strategy
  • Assessments of local economic and social benefits from different ownership models

Following the developing policy process closely builds expertise and capacity to respond to issues that emerge outside of the agenda for longer term programme research. ClimateXChange can respond to knowledge gaps and questions emerging as the policy agenda changes and evolves, and give timely expert opinion and advice.

Community energy in Scotland: the social factors for success is an example of how ClimateXChange research has incrementally developed a directly policy relevant evidence base. The first report opened the door to building relationships, further dialogue and discussion of the evidence, and to exploring innovative ideas across sectors. The Centre now has four fulltime Research Fellows working on different aspects of the energy system, funded since 2014.