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STEEP: Systems Thinking for Efficient Energy Planning

An illustration to show 'systems thinking' and links between three partner cities and urban sustainable energy planning

A European project to develop city-scale energy planning methods.

Project duration: October 2013 – October 2015

The Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) was a key partner (alongside Bristol City Council and Bristol University) in STEEP, a two-year EU-funded (FP7) project bringing together the cities of Bristol, San Sebastian and Florence to look at how ‘systems thinking’ can improve a city’s energy planning.

Like many other cities, San Sebastian, Bristol and Florence had already undertaken many initiatives to reduce their energy consumption, but these had typically been aimed at a specific sector or objective, overlooking the impact that these may be having on other sectors. Through STEEP the three partner cities worked together to develop and publish new methods and tools for urban sustainable energy planning using a ‘systems thinking’ approach.

Systems thinking is based on the idea that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation. A systems thinking approach is grounded in the principle that the only way to fully understand a problematic situation is to understand the parts in relation to the whole.

In the context of the STEEP project, the implementation of a systems approach required engagement with project partners and wider stakeholders in each city district. The modelling process in each district was a continuous iterative process based on feedback and discussion, rather than strategic planning.

The evidence and recommendations emerging from the project for Bristol were subsequently published as a ‘mini-Stern Review,’ The Economics of Low Carbon Cities (authored by the Cabot Institute and cobranded by CSE).  This report reviewed the cost and carbon effectiveness of a wide range of the low carbon options that could be applied in Bristol in households, industry, commerce and transport. It then explored the scope for their deployment, the associated investment needs, financial returns and carbon savings and the implications for the economy and employment.

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STEEP was funded under the European Commission’s ‘FP7’ funding stream and ran for two years between October 2013 and September 2015.

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