Energy Independence for Exeter, UK, by 2025

Exeter City Futures, a UK-based community interest company, is working to make the Exeter City region in the South West of England energy independent and congestion-free by 2025. A new report commissioned by Exeter City Futures, Energy Independence 2025, provides independent confirmation of many of the approaches to community energy planning set out in RMI’s Community Energy Resource Guide, such as the importance of collaborative planning, of including the private sector, and of data analytics. Exeter’s bold goals place it on par with other pioneering cities, such as Fort Collins, CO, and Austin, TX, and also serve as a model for ways cities can help transform energy use.

With cities consuming between two-thirds and three-quarters of the world’s energy, their role in driving a clean energy future is inescapable. Around 1.5 million people are added to the global urban population every week, and the proportion of the world’s population living in urban areas is heading for 66 percent by 2050. The global imperative for change is clear.

Uncontrolled, rapid urbanization presents acute challenges for national and local governments, with constrained capacity and finance for infrastructure delivery. Unplanned and poorly managed urbanization can give rise to inequality, pollution, and costly sprawling development plans. Too much of city development and planning is based on existing habits and behaviors, which oftentimes neither address the challenges, nor increase happiness.

Exeter City Futures: A Bold Vision for Change

Global imperatives such as climate change rarely drive local action. Communities and individuals care about the immediate and long-term opportunities available to them. Any successful program to create radical change must sit at the intersection of global imperatives and local realities and must develop attractive and positive opportunities for change.

The goals of Exeter City Futures are part of a developing vision of sustainability for the city, but making progress on such a set of goals is in the category of “wicked problems.” The issues involve many stakeholders with competing interests and different measures of value. It is vital to ensure that potential solutions do not end up making the problems they were designed to solve even worse.

The philosophy of Exeter City Futures is that big steps toward building better cities can be achieved through the use of analytics. A key part of the challenge is that analytics are neither widely available nor widely understood. This lack of access to data analytics means that cities cannot optimize decisions about urbanization or seek to procure capabilities that address the real needs of their citizens.

That’s why Exeter City Futures is using analytics, along with public engagement, to understand and define the challenges we face locally as a city and to begin to fix them.

Energy Independence 2025

As one of the fastest growing cities in the UK, Exeter is under pressure to find solutions to increasing energy demand. The Greater Exeter economic region is prospering and the local development framework outlines ambitious and exciting plans for growth. Exeter currently has a population of 124,000, a commuting-area population of 280,000, and a shopping catchment of over 500,000.

With 20,000 new homes planned, of which 17,000 will be in new developments, it is expected that 40,000 new residents will be living in the region by 2026. If the expected population increases and the current distribution of travel modes continue, 14,000 car commutes will be added to the roads in that time.

To provide insight into the energy challenges faced by Exeter, and the region’s potential for renewable generation, the report Energy Independence 2025 was commissioned from the private firm City Science.

The report reveals that the Greater Exeter economic region consumes 10 TWh of energy each year, a figure that is expected to reach 11.3 TWh by 2025. The estimated cost of this energy consumption is £914 million (about $1.1 billion), with almost half of this due to our transport choices. Today, the region’s consumers spend £500 million every year on fuel alone. If one could divert that level of investment, it would be possible to seed the world’s most extraordinary public transport system!

The report concludes that local energy independence for Exeter is achievable, but only if we undertake a radical restructuring of how we live our lives. To get there will require input from everybody: city leadership, businesses, educational institutions, and individuals. Collaboration and open innovation will be of vital importance to deliver the outcomes we need.

Key Recommendations

The report sets out 10 key recommendations to help reduce energy consumption and boost clean energy generation across Exeter and its commuting area. It indicates that Exeter and the surrounding region are well placed to unlock a thriving energy sector and become an example for other cities around the world seeking to overcome their own energy-supply challenges.

Recommendations from Energy Independence 2025 include:

  • Facilitate the development of net-energy positive buildings
  • Develop credible roadmaps to large-scale domestic retrofit
  • Encourage and demonstrate innovative solutions to reduce domestic appliance energy use
  • Develop commercial and industrial case studies
  • Develop credible roadmaps to cut transport consumption
  • Coordinate solutions to address grid constraints
  • Stimulate onshore generation
  • Provide an economic evidence base
  • Encourage and support research into enhanced generation efficiency
  • Encourage investment in marine and geothermal technologies

Data is going to be one of the key enablers to overcome the challenges of increasing energy efficiency and to pioneer significant behavioral change. Exeter City Futures believes that careful cataloging of the huge number of city data sources will be essential for designing and financing the major infrastructure and service projects required.

The report also highlights the need to fill a skills gap in the region in order to implement the recommended solutions. In disciplines like Passivhaus (known in the U.S. as Passive House), accessible local training is required if we want to ensure our houses are built, and retrofitted, to be as energy efficient as possible.

The report’s recommendations recognize that achieving energy independence by 2025 is not simply about increased generation—especially in a city like Exeter, where modern infrastructure is still influenced by ancient planning decisions. It’s about developing insights from data that enable smart decisions to close the gap between consumption and the maximum achievable renewable generation, and about helping to identify effective measures for both generating and saving energy.

Exeter’s location and size make it the ideal place to validate solutions that will benefit any city. Although Exeter is only 50 km2, it resembles much larger cities and the problems they face. Situated as it is in the South West of England, Exeter is in an enviable position for harnessing sustainable energy. It is surrounded by abundant natural resources that could be used to capture energy using a wide range of different technologies, including solar, wind, bioenergy, hydro, marine, and geothermal. Exeter City Futures is defining the role of cities in achieving independence from nonrenewable energy sources.

Energy Independence 2025 is the first in a series of reports commissioned from City Science. It will be followed by in-depth reports on Exeter’s transportation and economy. Together, the three reports will provide clear guidance for local authorities and investors on how to achieve the goals set out by Exeter City Futures, and provide a firm foundation for investment in the solutions.

Download the Energy Independence 2025 report here.

Glenn Woodcock is Exeter City Futures CEO and founder. Glenn has 25 years of experience in senior management positions across venture capital, software product development, credit risk, and regulatory reporting.
Image courtesy of Exeter City Futures.