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Why We're All Going to Need Local Energy Independence

14/06/2017 11:43 BST | Updated 14/06/2017 11:44 BST

If you ask people what they would list under Maslow's hierarchy of needs, chances are you'll be given some variation on food, shelter, and warmth.

The challenge as our population grows is how we meet those urgent and basic needs. The difficulties are plain to see. Successive governments have to set targets for housebuilding to meet the demand from a growing population. There are examples of poverty around the country, albeit owing to access to foodstuffs rather than food simply being unavailable on account of famine. And with warmth - in fact energy as a whole - there are challenges in how we provide for an increasing population and growing economy.

The demand for energy is seeing a step change in provision, with the Green Alliance recently reporting that the future belongs to smaller-scale schemes as opposed to larger-scale power stations. And there are greater efforts to act at local levels. Take Exeter as an example. One of the fastest growing cities in the UK in terms of population, the energy demands of the city have increased exponentially in recent years. That puts real pressure on resources. There is, quite simply, only so much cake to go around.

You might expect leaders in the local authority to turn to a national solution. To look to national resources to meet local demands. But in fact, Exeter has set itself the challenge of becoming energy independent by 2025. To put that into context, that goal means meeting the energy needs of the 40,000 new residents expected to be living in the region by 2026. And accommodating 14,000 more car commutes on local roads.

The scale of the demands on energy resources are no less vast. A report by City Science, commissioned by Exeter City Futures, concluded that the Greater Exeter region consumes 10 terawatt-hours of energy per year, and that demand will increase by 13 percent by 2025.


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The scale of challenge in achieving energy independence is massive, and one that can't be met by simply increasing supply. The solution instead is identifying the ways in which energy consumption can actually be reduced and made more efficient.

It's something that Exeter as a city is really taking to heart - with the potential to not only realise opportunities for better energy efficiency, helping lower carbon emissions and supporting energy independence, but also to support economic development in the region.

To meet the expected population growth within the next decade, Exeter has plans to build some 20,000 new homes, of which 17,000 will be in new developments. The focus must be on ensuring these developments are net-energy positive, but this in itself isn't enough. Almost a quarter of Exeter's current housing stock was built before 1919 so lacks the energy efficiency we would take for granted in new builds today. The local authorities will consequently have to introduce a retrofit programme to bring these properties up to spec.

This might sound an incredible undertaking, but it's entirely achievable - with the significant bonus being that the combination of retrofitting existing stock and developing energy efficient new builds will require 2,500 skilled workers, creating opportunities for employment and training, and supporting local business growth.

The work is already being done, and a Grade II listed building in the city is already being retrofitted to bring its energy performance certificate up to a 'A' rating - demonstrating that a retrofit programme is as achievable as it is necessary. This can be supported through the use of solar panels, which thanks to technological and installation development, can be utilised for listed properties and older buildings to further improve their energy efficiency.

The example of Exeter is one other cities and urban areas would be well served by following. There is a necessity to think about how we meet future energy needs that may well grow substantially. As the Green Alliance has suggested, the path is towards smaller scale developments to meet demand - but we should also be thinking in terms of local.

With energy independence clearly an achievable goal, the opportunity exists for other cities to capitalise - improving efficiencies and unlocking economic development. And when we can read nearly daily about the dangers of pollution in many of our cities, surely that should be a common aspiration?

Glenn Woodcock is founder and Chief Executive of Exeter City Futures.