Regen has been working with SSEN and ENA to help contribute to Ofgem and NESO’s work on detailed design of the Regional Energy Strategic Planners. Here, Poppy Maltby outlines four key challenge areas that have emerged so far and possible solutions for local areas and electricity networks.

Regional Energy Strategic Planners (RESPs) have a heavy weight of expectation on them. Network infrastructure and constraints are a key risk in the delivery of net zero. Ofgem is hoping these new bodies will play an important role in accelerating strategic investment in our energy networks and providing greater local democratic input and accountability for critical net zero infrastructure. 

RESPs are intended to inject more democracy and ‘whole systems thinking’ into network investment. As well as engaging a wide range of regional stakeholders to understand energy demand and strategic priorities, they will create a Regional Energy Strategic Plan that, in theory, will align national ambitions with the local delivery of net zero. 

In particular, the RESPs is looking to resolve two issues:  

  1. Ensuring local authorities (or businesses) do not find their plans for net zero – such as fitting heat pumps to new homes or installing lots of renewable energy and electric bus fleets – are thwarted by not having sufficient electricity network capacity or infrastructure to achieve their objectives within a reasonable budget or timescale.  
  2. Providing confidence for Ofgem that five-yearly network investment plans for electricity and gas networks – which decide which parts of the country are going to have upgraded energy infrastructure – are based on coordinated forecasts of changes in how we generate power, heat our homes and get about, and respond to what local and regional stakeholders are aiming to achieve. 

The creation of RESPs and regional energy strategic plans should help overcome both problems by providing visibility and certainty about regional or local net zero plans, facilitating greater local input and accountability, and ensuring a clear understanding of how local and national ambitions align (or diverge, as the case may be). 

Regen is, therefore, very supportive of this idea and of the approach – so far so good.  

But now for the challenges. Expectations are high and balancing different interests and parties will be difficult. Details of how the RESP will work are currently light and there are many different possible flavours of what the body will do and deliver.  

To help contribute to Ofgem and NESO’s work on detailed design of the RESP, Regen has been working with both SSEN and ENA to explore some of the challenge areas and possible solutions for local areas and for electricity networks. Four key words that have emerged from our work so far: visibility, certainty, iteration and risk. 


The visibility of local stakeholder plans and regional strategic ambitions is a key objective of the RESP and is clearly critical if you want to evolve from reactive and incremental investment in networks into something strategic and whole-system. However, getting that visibility, particularly of medium and long-term ambitions, has so far proven challenging. Doing so requires greater consistency in data collection and interoperability, and a mechanism for making this data visible to regional stakeholders. 

We are hoping that the RESP will start to clarify what the information on energy demands and generation required from stakeholders looks like, how it flows and from what –  a Local Plan? A Local Area Energy Plan? How do other local stakeholders participate? 

Some of this data flow challenge, such as ensuring local authorities have the resource and capacity to provide plans or data to the RESP consistently, is outside Ofgem’s direct scope of influence, wandering into the realms of DLUC, DESNZ and others. 

For the RESP, however, this data question is critical. Our project with NGED, West Midlands Combined Authority, ESO and AI’s LAEP+ tool (project Pride) is providing some interesting insights into digital tools and information flows.  


The second challenge is that, once we have visibility, we need to assess certainty of local and regional data, plans and information.  

Local areas have a lot of good intentions but with the focus on keeping our energy bills low, networks are under pressure by the regulator to invest only if absolutely necessary. This is why electricity networks generally wait until a formal connection request is made (and maybe not even then). We know that good intentions may not come to pass.  

And the critical question is who judges this level of certainty and how? Any judgement clearly needs a strong and transparent process to be established, particularly for those that don’t make the cut.  

However the added complexity is, of course, the circularity – or chicken-and-egg problem – of assessing certainty of plans when network availability is a critical element determining cost and timing of projects, and therefore certainty.  

The hope is that the RESP starts to tackle this, both in establishing a process of assessing certainty of plans and recording how different projects or plans are progressing, as well as networks and Ofgem becoming more comfortable investing in the face of higher uncertainty. 


Naturally flowing from processes to reflect the uncertainty of regional strategic ambitions and information is the need for the regional energy planning process to be iterative.  

Rather than thinking of the RESP as delivering a single static plan in which things happen or they don’t, we need to recognise the importance of a dynamic process that reflects the evolving nature of both how local projects develop and of network investment itself. DNOs have recently developed system operation functions (DSO) where they can use flexibility to manage uncertainty before moving to investment in new assets as they become more certain of changing levels of demand.  

This type of approach would mean that local stakeholders are less likely to miss the boat on network business plans due to not having yet submitted a connection request, making for a more dynamic investment process overall. 

Within ED2 we saw significant emphasis on uncertainty mechanisms to provide dynamic investment alongside five-year plans. Our work with SSEN in the Isle of Wight and on the Scottish Islands is exploring what process and evidence is needed to unlock those mechanisms. 


And onto the final word of the day: risk, which really is at the heart of all of this.  

It’s clear that Ofgem and the networks need to get more comfortable with uncertainty – being ‘pretty sure’ rather than ‘absolutely sure’ before money is committed and spent – especially given the critical network element to a lot of projects. Having more flexibility in the criteria required to trigger investment would allow net zero projects to progress more quickly.   

But is there a point at which local areas may want greater investment to prepare for projects that come with higher uncertainty that things are actually going to be delivered. Who will pay for an under-utilised electricity line? Energy bill payers is not a popular answer.  

And so, to support a higher level of risk in our network investments, we maybe should ask questions about whether there are any circumstances under which local areas themselves could or should be taking a slice of the risk and essentially putting up some cash to unlock their plans.  It can be complex but we’ve seen some examples emerging of this – Central Bedfordshire’s £40m to support the construction of a local supergrid is a much-quoted example. What role the RESPs or regional boards could play in this process is an interesting medium-term question. 

Final thoughts 

The RESP development is a really exciting area of policy and, although there are challenges, it’s clear there is the potential to create a really valuable regional body and associated processes to effectively accelerate local net zero delivery. Pragmatically it makes sense to start small, defining or guiding processes, formats and data assumptions for local net zero and then building the role over time. 

However, as our research for Innovate UK illustrated, while local authorities are increasingly important actors in both the energy system and net zero delivery, they are a diverse group with different needs, capabilities and capacities in the energy and net zero space. For the RESP to be a success, local areas will need the right support to make sure they can interact with it consistently and effectively.  

Regen will be continuing to contribute to the thinking on the development of the RESP. If you would like to give us your thoughts, please get in touch with Poppy Maltby

For more information on our membership packages for local authorities, click here.

Stay informed

Sign up to the Regen newsletter to receive a monthly digest of our work to revolutionise the UK energy system, and industry insights.

We take care of your personal data. We will only contact you according to your preferences and will NEVER share or sell your details. See our privacy policy for more information