Levelling up: now is the time for local energy to step into the limelight

Amy Ritchie, External Affairs Officer, Association for Decentralised Energy
Heat and Decentralised Energy 2020 takes place in London on 25th March. In this blog, Amy Ritchie from the ADE looks at the role of local, decentralised energy in supporting the Government’s aspiration to “level up” our communities, and the importance of youth voice in shaping future action.

“Levelling up”. The new catchphrase on everybody’s lips. Coined by Prime Minster Boris Johnson, it captures the Government’s ambition to bring growth and opportunity to so-called “left behind” communities and regions across the nation. At the same time, there is mounting public pressure to do more to tackle the climate emergency and achieve net zero by 2050, with engagement on environmental issues at an all-time high. Balancing these two essential priorities does present challenges, but it is by no means impossible - and local energy projects can provide solutions to both.

Decentralised energy is local energy. It is powering households and businesses up and down the country, from the district energy scheme providing low carbon heating to homes and buildings in Leeds, to the electric vehicle charging points in your local supermarket car park. The ADE’s members have long been providing practical, efficient energy solutions to customers - but practical is not always sexy, and despite the cross over between decentralised and renewable energy, our sector has often been left sitting in the shadow of towering wind turbines. However, after a period of political upheaval, a new government brings new opportunity, and we must take the chance to step up to the microphone and shout about how we contribute to clean growth and improvement across society.

The contribution of our sector is real and is already making a difference. Local schemes run in coalition with businesses, universities and local governments are providing low carbon energy to millions of homes and businesses. Such local schemes also provide replicable examples of how users can actually benefit from a just energy transition. There is a welcome focus on developing technologies like hydrogen that may give Britain a competitive advantage in the future, but the new Government mustn’t overlook scaling up solutions that are already in our proverbial ‘back garden’. Investment in schemes like these will not just unlock further potential for decarbonisation, but also for improved efficiency, skills development and job creation, as well as wider economic growth. In their ambition to level up, the Government must trust local actors to lead on local solutions in their communities, together with the help of industry expertise.

The magnitude of the challenges we face may sometimes seem daunting, but rather than viewing a low carbon future as a sacrifice, it is important that we look instead for opportunities to empower, innovate and create positive change. For the transition to net zero will mean nothing if it is not a just transition that benefits everyone.

It truly does feel like an exciting time where real change is within reach, with opportunities to engage with new audiences. This year, for the first time, the ADE and Energy Institute have invited a youth coalition to join us at the Heat and Decentralised Energy Conference, in order to help broaden our perspective. Young people are leading the charge on climate action and, instead of just patting them on the back, it is our role to recognise their valuable contribution and ask how we may help. Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng has spoken of creating “2 million green collar jobs across the country by 2030”, and it is today’s young people who will be filling these roles as the drivers of positive change. The action we take now determines their future opportunities, and the decentralised energy sector has proven that it is ready to act.

As seen time and again at conferences and seminars, from COP to local council meetings, one event cannot solve a global issue. However, I sincerely hope that the Heat and Decentralised Energy Conference 2020 will inspire and invigorate attendees and give pace to the economic and social shift that must take place in order to reach our net zero targets. I very much look forward to seeing you there.