The UK energy system is changing rapidly. Greenhouse gas emissions fell by 43% between 1990 and 2017, and renewables now account for 30% of electricity generation. Despite this progress, achieving emissions reductions has been difficult outside the electricity sector, and progress could stall without more effective policy action. The Paris Agreement means that the UK may have to go further than current targets, to achieve a net zero energy system.
Reducing emissions is not the only important energy policy goal. Further, progress need to be made whilst minimising the costs to consumers and taxpayers; maintaining high levels of energy security; and maximising economic, environmental and social benefits.
There is a clear need for research to understand the nature of the technical, economic, political, environmental and societal dynamics affecting the energy system - including the local, national and international components of these dynamics. This proposal sets out UKERC's plans for a 4th phase of research and engagement (2019-2024) that addresses this challenge. It includes a programme of interdisciplinary research on sustainable future energy systems. This is driven by real-world energy challenges whilst exploring new questions, methods and agendas. It also explains how UKERC's central activities will be developed further, including new capabilities to support energy researchers and decision-makers.
The UKERC phase 4 research programme will focus on new challenges and opportunities for implementing the energy transition, and will be concerned with the three main questions:
- How will global, national and local developments influence the shape and pace of the UK's transition towards a low carbon energy system?
- What are the potential economic, political, social and environmental costs and benefits of energy system change, and how can they be distributed equitably?
- Which actors could take the lead in implementing the next stage of the UK's energy transition, and what are the implications for policy and governance?
To address these questions, the research programme includes seven interrelated research themes: UK energy in a global context; Local and regional energy systems; Energy, environment, and landscape; Energy infrastructure transitions; Energy for mobility; Energy systems for heat; and Industrial decarbonisation. The proposal sets out details of research within these themes, plans for associated PhD studentships and details of the flexible research fund that will be used to commission additional research projects, scoping studies and to support integration. A first integration project on energy and the economy will be undertaken at the start of UKERC phase 4.
The research themes are complemented by four national capabilities that form part of the research programme: an expanded Technology and Policy Assessment (TPA) capability; a new Energy Modelling Hub; the UKERC Energy Data Centre; and a new Public Engagement Observatory. Research within TPA and the Observatory will align and integrate with the main research themes. These four capabilities will also enhance UKERC's ability to provide evidence, data and expertise for academic, policy, industry and other stakeholder communities.
The UKERC headquarters (HQ) team will support the management and co-ordination of the research programme; and will also undertake a range of other functions to support the broader UK energy research community and its key stakeholders. These functions include promoting networking and engagement between stakeholders in academia, policy, industry and third sector (including through a networking fund), supporting career development and capacity building, and enhancing international collaboration (including through the UK's participation in the European Energy Research Alliance).