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Clean Energy Cities in action: accelerating local energy transitions in Oxford and Birmingham

Stephen Lorimer   •   6 March 2023

Tyseley Environmental Enterprise District

Centre for Net Zero recently kickstarted two proof-of-concept projects to accelerate local energy transitions in Oxford and Birmingham, following the launch of our ‘Clean Energy Cities’ (CEC) programme at the end of last year. 

We work with cities around the world on projects that are designed to realise their ambitions of becoming net zero leaders. Our projects take forward recommendations made in our CEC report, supported by the World Resources Institute, which outline the highest impact steps different archetypes of cities should be adopting to prepare themselves for the transition to green energy systems. 

Announced earlier this month, Oxford City Council is one of 31 councils that have been awarded funding from Innovate UK. In its desire to achieve net zero emissions across the city by 2040 – 10 years ahead of the legal deadline set by the Government – the Council wants to create a new ‘one stop shop’ for residents and businesses seeking retrofit services for their homes and premises, through an innovative ‘FutureFit’ concept. The approach includes utilising smart technology and design to make it easier for people to reduce their energy consumption. 

A feasibility study is now underway, addressing how Oxford can take the next steps to make this idea a reality. Led by Oxford City Council and the Low Carbon Hub, we are working alongside the University of Oxford, Lucy Group, Oxfordshire County Council, and Oxford Brookes University, as well as ODS and Arup, to deliver the study. 

Centre for Net Zero is responsible for identifying the barriers that might prevent Oxford from delivering its one-stop-shop, specifically for property and building portfolio owners who are looking to acquire low carbon technologies (LCTs). We will be mapping the local energy data ecosystem and recommending ways to remove barriers to data sharing between sectors. The creation of data sharing platforms is a core recommendation made in our CEC report for ‘Distributed Cities’, such as Oxford. We define Distributed Cities as urban environments that are small, evenly distributed, with some renewable energy sources nearby. They tend to have populations with moderate digital skills, who are adopting increasing numbers of LCTs and innovative energy tariffs. Data platforms are subsequently critical to making use of these characteristics in order to create a connected, efficient and flexible energy system. 

We have also started work in Birmingham to identify potential sites for strategic energy storage in its future green energy and innovation quarter, Tyseley Environmental Enterprise District (TEED). Situated in the East of the city, the creation of TEED is central to the city’s response to climate change.

As an ‘Available City’, Birmingham is characterised by high land availability, regional renewable energy capacity, and a high density urban core. A key CEC recommendation for this city archetype is planning for and rolling out large-scale local battery storage. Funded by the Alan Turing institute, we are working with Birmingham City Council and the University of Birmingham to identify potential sites for strategic battery storage. We are using Faraday – our smart meter load profile generating tool – to simulate future energy demand in the domestic sector and identify subsequent storage capacity required in the non-domestic sector. 

Using Faraday, we’ll be forecasting the likely penetration of heat pumps, electric vehicles and solar PVs to build clear consumption profiles, checking how this maps against energy consumption profiles in commercial buildings (as these can be complimentary if managed intelligently). We’ll then be providing guidance on capacity requirements for strategic storage in different parts of the network. This storage can enable a 24/7 constant import of electricity from the grid, as outlined in our CEC report and in figure 1 below. The ultimate ambition of the Birmingham project is to leverage CNZ’s analysis to influence the purchase of storage capacity by key city stakeholders. 


clean energy cities

Figure 1

As an impact-driven research organisation, we are highly motivated by the opportunity to take research recommendations and implement them on the ground, delivering real world change. Both of these projects are characterised by expert collaboration; we are working with academics, social enterprises and local authorities to overcome cross-sectoral issues that often weaken the ability of cities to take bold net zero action. 

Since the launch of our report, we’ve identified a handful of global cities who are already adopting actions that align with our CEC recommendations. You can check out our first set of case studies here, spotlighting projects in Johannesburg, London, Manchester and Tokyo. 

If you’re a city leader interested in working with us on high-impact projects that are designed to make the future energy system a reality, please get in touch.