Where next for energy generation in Greater Manchester?

Our director, Damian Burton, chairs the Energy Sub-Group of Manchester: A Certain Future, Manchester’s climate change action plan. Following the recent constitution of the group, Damian outlines its emerging aspirations.

Imagine you’re a commercial property developer. What pushes your buttons? You want to make a return on your scheme, whatever that might be. You might be a specialist in office buildings, business parks, industrial use, shopping centres, retail or warehousing, or maybe you’re active in housing or leisure.
Whatever it is, it needs to be realistic and profitable, and there are many factors impacting on the financial viability of any given project. Now, how do considerations around energy provision feature in these viability considerations? At its most basic, a developer with ask its local Distribution Network Operator (DNO) for an electrical connection based on the intended usage of the site. The cables go in the ground and the electricity is switched on. Job done. There are fees and plans and permits to secure, but you get the picture.
However, are there any opportunities for developers to ask their DNO for more sustainable options? For example, could the electrical connection be reinforced or ‘future-proofed’ in case of an anticipated demand for electrical vehicle charging points in the future? We know it can, but what does this mean to a project budget? 
Developers are not immune to regulation on environmental issues, and neither are they ignorant to the potential merits of sustainable building design, but there are associated costs and, at present, these can be prohibitive.
During the first meeting of the Energy Sub-Group of Manchester’s Climate Change Action Plan – Manchester: A Certain Future – a recurring theme was the lack of direction in terms of sustainable infrastructure development in the city. How can developers be empowered to make a more sustainable investment decision if there’s insufficient information out there? 
There’s no secret what the potential opportunities are, but how do we better say to developers that Manchester is ‘open for business’ in terms of combined heat and power infrastructure? Or renewable generation? Or smart grids? How do we acknowledge that the opportunities for renewable heat connections may currently be limited, but that through improved dialogue, we can start to remove these barriers?
The Energy Sub-Group has tasked itself with addressing these issues. Manchester currently has no media for readily sharing with stakeholders the range of technological opportunities for electricity generation there actually are out there. If we were to ask about the strategy for making the city accessible to electric vehicles, where would we go? It’s not that these things aren’t under consideration, it’s just that the information needs communicating more effectively. If we get our outreach right, we can start convincing each and every stakeholder.
So, where does the Energy Sub-Group start? We realise that achieving this is difficult, but not impossible. We’ve agreed that identifying two or three projects will keep us busy for the year ahead. We want to start a wider conversation with the city and we want it to be transparent and pluralistic. We want to bring in expertise where we don’t have it and we want to help facilitate some near-term aspirations.
A version of this post originally appeared on www.ontheplatform.org.uk