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Recent rises in fuel prices and the cost of living crisis, driven by geopolitical shocks such as the invasion of Ukraine, have highlighted the need for an increase in secure, affordable and sustainable energy production.

The government’s ambitions, set out in the Energy Security Strategy, will help achieve this by reducing our dependence on imported oil and gas and decarbonising our electricity system by 2035. This will require an increase in domestic energy production, which will place additional demands on land..

3d wind turbines sea 
against sunset sky

Figure 1: Geospatial data is helping pinpoint the best locations to locate new energy infrastructure. 

In collaboration with Defra and Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), we’ve been exploring how geospatial data and modelling tools could help support decisions on where to locate energy infrastructure and how best to balance the land required for energy security with other important land uses. 

We began with a roundtable attended by senior civil servants from Defra, BEIS, and Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), and followed this with an online interactive workshop attended by academic experts, civil servants, and experts from public bodies.

Strength in a diverse set of approaches?

In November 2022, we brought together senior civil servants to discuss priority areas for UK energy security, land use implications of different energy scenarios, and how spatial data might support better integrated land-use decisions in relation to energy infrastructure. 

Attendees agreed that a diverse range of models, which can be tested against each other and where assumptions and parameters are clearly defined, would be more useful than a ‘master model’. It was felt that a single overarching model would be inflexible, difficult to implement, and limit the evaluation of different assumptions on policy implications. 

Further, it was agreed a model that tackles priorities in a cross-departmental way would be beneficial to ensure a good understanding of potential synergies and trade-offs. The attendees highlighted some unknowns and limitations of modelling, such as the impact of innovation on land requirements for energy infrastructure and social perceptions of energy infrastructures.

High voltage transmission lines

Figure 2: New models for energy infrastructure can help policymakers and planners better plan energy transmission grids.

Building on existing models

During the first half of the workshop in January 2023 we considered the strengths, limitations, and compatibility of existing spatial data tools in supporting energy infrastructure decision-making. Several existing models were discussed, such as highRes and ADVENT To ensure the models are effective for energy infrastructure policy, academics agreed that decision-makers need to be clear about what policy question they want the model to address. This includes consideration of the order of priorities, as well as spatial scale requirements, and socio-economic and environmental factors.  The second half of the workshop focused on how we could better use spatial data and modelling tools to support future government decision-making on energy security. It was agreed that to improve the accuracy of model outputs, soft links between models could be made to enable fast and flexible testing of different policy options. Suggestions for improving model accuracy included the use of ensemble models (combining predictions from several models) and pyramid structures of models (scenario evaluation with an optimisation level). Further, new models may only be needed to fill existing knowledge gaps, for example agricultural land quality, land ownership, and social and human factors.
delimitation land plots concept

Figure 3: We’re now examining how land use data can be used to make better decisions for housing with DLUHC.

Next steps

After exploring some of the opportunities and associated challenges of developing better tools for land use modelling in energy systems with DESNZ, we’re now considering a similar set of questions in the context of land for housing with DLUHC. After a cross-departmental roundtable earlier in February, we’re now moving onto a further technical workshop – check back here for another progress update in March!