Planning for sustainability

A new £1m research project will help UK cities incorporate energy sustainability as an integral part of the planning process for major projects.

As part of the programme, engineers at the University of Leeds and the University of Nottingham will develop the tools necessary for planners to make these decisions.

William Gale, a professor in the school of process, environmental and materials engineering at Leeds, said: ‘Traditionally, planners were concerned with issues such as the appropriateness of proposed buildings and transport infrastructure. Our cities have a huge impact on energy sustainability and economic competitiveness, so it is vital that future energy needs are considered in the planning process.’

The project brings together academics from a range of disciplines, working with the different strands of complexity science  a field concerned with the evolution of physical and organisational systems and decision making.

Gale added: ‘We’re not only looking at how much power will be needed and where it might come from, we’ll also be examining how decision-making by multiple stakeholders – as is common in high-density city areas – might affect the energy planning process.’

The project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, is due to start in the autumn and has the potential to enable cities across the UK to deliver on targets set to support overall UK energy sustainability. The project has an informal collaboration with Leeds City Council to use the city as a test bed for its tools.

Tom Knowland, head of sustainable development for Leeds City Council, said: ‘Leeds is working hard to create a sustainable city and our recently adopted climate-change strategy identifies developing low-carbon energy infrastructure as a priority.

‘At the moment we only have a few examples of decentralised energy in Leeds, but we have the potential to do much more. This project with the university to develop a planning tool will help us with our ambition in this field.’

Gale said his team hopes to develop simulation tools that could apply to any city in the UK in the next three years.

He added: ‘These would model current energy usage and provide predictions of future energy needs and how these could be met as sustainably as is realistically possible. Leeds is a great city to use as a case study because it has changed enormously over the past 20 years and its development is continuing.’