Enterprise Smart Energy Planning and Permitting Challenges - A UK Case Study

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2Q 2023 | IN-6979

As more businesses look toward smart energy and sustainability, it is important to reflect and highlight the requirements for certain technologies in order to meet regulations. Importantly, ensuring that planning and permits are correct is a must at the beginning of a project lifecycle, as renewable heating technologies become more prevalent in today’s landscape.

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The Current Push for Sustainability


Highlighted in one of our previous ABI Insights (IN-6941), regulations are driving businesses around the world to adopt sustainable practices. The United Kingdom has mandatory climate disclosure focused on the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures (TCFC) for businesses with more than 500 employees and over £500 million in turnover. To reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, companies are looking to sustainable practices with on-site generation and microgrids offering viable options for industries to maintain a reliable source of energy. However, the shift to renewable technologies and sustainability must follow existing regulations for planning and environmental guidance, as the U.K. government has stated that the need for renewable technology cannot ignore protecting the environment.

Why Does Getting It Right the First Time Matter?


Ensuring that all planning and permitting is correct is essential for new builds or installing new systems in existing buildings, as the U.K. government has the right to instruct anyone to cease generation if they do not have the appropriate documents in place, which ultimately halts production. Having large Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) for renewable technologies makes it crucial to ensure that commissioning installations is a smooth process with as few delays as possible. Several renewable installations have been severely delayed because of planning missteps, which eats away at the Return on Investment (ROI). Planning normally consists of displaying locations, initial schematics, and impact reviews for the public to view and comment on. Most are approved, unless there is a major concern with the environmental impact (e.g., the destruction or altering of protected land) or if there is a significant number of residences in close proximity. For electrical generation, this is less of an issue, but heating systems commonly find themselves under question and can take longer to gain approval. Environmental permits set out the limitations on pollution that a business can emit at a location and involves reporting the system’s make and model at the location.

What to Look Out for and When Does It Apply to You?


The best recommendation is to speak with a consultant. There are numerous local authorities that act on the government’s behalf, but you must ensure you have contacted the correct one, as rules may vary by area. A planning consultant will ensure that the correct rules are being followed in the correct district. Instead of local authorities handling environmental permits for each country in the United Kingdom, there will be a different reporting body. England has the Environmental Agency (EA), Scotland has the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), Wales has the Natural Resource Wales (NRW), and Northern Ireland has the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). Which one to report to will be easier to discern in this case, but a rule or decision in one country may not be the same in another country, so each system installation must be looked at with a fresh set of eyes. The U.K. government’s website is specific enough to highlight major areas, but just vague enough to allow each regulatory body to make the final judgement. Similar to planning, navigating the permitting processes can be tricky, which is why speaking with consultants who have experience in most scenarios, can provide insights, and can request the documents needed in advance is recommended.

Environmental permits are more of a concern for renewable heating systems like biomass boilers and heat pumps, as they have the potential to affect the surrounding environment by emitting gases into the atmosphere or water and tainted substances into the ground. These permits can take 5 to 7 months to get approval, so having a dedicated consultant who knows how to navigate the process will mean fewer headaches and less of a learning curve for industries.

Below is a list of renewable heat generating systems that will likely require environmental permits:

  • A combustion plant equal to or greater than 1 Megawatts Thermal (MWth) in input capacity
  • Any plant that uses “waste” as a fuel source (e.g., recycled wood, animal products)
  • Ground or water source heat pumps with that extract or emit water from/to the environment (open sourced)
  • Any activity that involves radioactive substances

Attaining environmental permits will be specific to the location and the model of installation, so any changes to the installation model or activity on-site will need to be reflected and agreed on again.

Numerous consultants throughout the United Kingdom can provide this service, and searching online can lead to exhaustive comparisons, as some may only accept jobs in certain cities. Alternatively, installers/consultants who work closely in the field of renewables will be able to point you in the right direction for some trusted consultants. Examples include:

  • Plande: Planning consultants who cover a wide range of sectors.
  • Paul Downing Ltd: Environmental permitting consultants who work closely with local authorities and agencies.
  • Your Energy Source: Renewable energy consultants specializing in renewable heat with connections to trusted installers and planning consultants.

Another factor that can help determine the approval of the planning applications and permits is the proximity of any nearby residents and their opinions. Wind turbines create constant noise and councils often require them to be a set a distance away from residential areas. The same is true for biomass boilers with flue gases that cannot be too close to any residential properties and windows. Be aware of nearby residences, as their location will have a big factor on what a business can install.

The planning and permitting for energy generation systems can be long and confusing, which is why involving consultants at an early stage of the project lifecycle is recommended to ensure that enough time is given to a system that must meet current U.K. regulations. These regulations may change over time, but likely will change in favor of environment protection, so having experienced consultants who work closely with agencies can be invaluable.


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