The theme comprises three workstreams: Understanding supply-side and demand-side Participation; Sustainable Generation Sources; and Infrastructures

Understanding Supply-Side and Demand-Side Participation In Transition Pathways To A Low Carbon Economy Workstream

Background: The Transitions literature highlights the importance of individuals and organisations in achieving regime change but acknowledges that ‘more systematic research is needed on this topic’ (Geels 2005, 692). In this workstram, we focus empirically on two inter-linked aspects of the energy system: the networks of ‘supply-side’ actors (energy producers; infrastructure suppliers; R & D; regulators; policy-makers etc), and ‘demand-side’ actors (residential, commercial and industrial energy users) to explore a number of important issues.

Understanding the drivers, barriers and effectiveness of supply-side participation (SSP) in transition pathways requires a methodological approach able to trace the technical, professional, economic, personal and political relationships that bind (more or less) powerful players into the existing regime, with options to consider how changes in any or all of these relationships might lead to different transition pathways.

One of the most widely discussed transition pathways is that of changing ‘demand-side’ participation (DSP), now possible via technologies and other enhancements to information flow including smart metering and time-of day pricing, smart appliances and low-cost communications (Leach et al, 2007); and ‘users’ can become ‘producers’ too via an expanding range of (currently niche) distributed generation technologies (DG). Interest in demand-side actions stems from possible benefits for both end-users and the wider energy system.

For 50 example: load shifting under time-of-day-pricing can offer cost savings to end-users, substitute for dispatchability of fossil-fuelled central generation, allowing larger penetration of wind/wave/solar with carbon savings and greater user satisfaction.

Aims and objectives: This work stream will undertake quantitative and qualitative assessment of the possibilities for and implications of SSP (through network interactions) and DSP (both automated and that requiring human intervention) and DG as part of the consortium’s selected transition pathways. It will draw strongly on a wealth of existing techno-economic research, and will focus on linking this with more novel social and behavioural questions, which are key to a significant transition. The key objectives are to:

  • Map the existing energy network; identify key processes and practices binding producers and consumers in the network, promoting or impeding selected transition pathways;
  • To understand different perspectives on the environmental, technological, economic, social and political issues associated with selected transition pathways;
  • Investigate how a range of energy users perceive and value DSP and DG characteristics;
  • Explore what technical, social and behavioural changes are required to move DSP and DG options from niche Fans application to regime level;
  • Examine whether DSP and DG can deliver significant and cost-effective services to the energy system.

For DSP and DG the focus will be on residential and SME sectors as these offer the prospects for greater DSP/DG innovation than do the well established – and better studied – industrial/commercial sectors.

Sustainable Generation Sources Work Stream

Background: A major transition is unavoidable in the move to a low carbon electricity generation system. Both technical and institutional change is required and these are closely linked. It is easy to underestimate the central challenge of moving towards a genuinely sustainable electricity supply system. In the context of steady world-wide growth in electricity demand, driven to a large extent by the fast growing Asian economies, all finite sources of energy, whether fossil or fissile, cannot be considered sustainable.

The long term transition is to electricity generation entirely from renewable energy sources (and perhaps fusion). Existing fossil reserves can be used together with CCS, alongside nuclear generation as crucial stepping stones to this sustainable future.

The timing of this transition is limited by a combination of technology development, limits to rates of technology deployment, and the wider economic context for conventional energy resources reflecting agreements on limiting climate change.

Given the pace of change, it is appropriate now to start considering in technical detail what a sustainable electricity supply system might look like and what sorts of institutional change will be required for the companies involved to play their role in managing this transition.

Aims and objectives: This work stream will explore the technical and institutional changes required as part of the transition to a low carbon energy economy. Attention will be given to the technical transition process and the role of stepping stone technologies such as CCS and nuclear. The key objectives are to:

  • Outline alternative concepts for a sustainable electricity generation system for the UK (drawing heavily on previous work to review the status of the various renewable energy technologies and covering both large scale for central generation, and small and distributed generation technologies);
  • Consider the scale and timing of the CCS (and possibly nuclear) required to provide the stepping stone to a sustainable system;
  • Make a quantitative assessment of the reliability and operability of the identified sustainable system configurations;
  • Explore in outline the electricity needs of a sustainable electric transport sector and the potential of this to provide major controllable loads to be used for system balancing;
  • Undertake all this work as far as possible in close co-operation with E.ON engineers to as to provide a joint learning process for researchers and the industry.

The research within this work stream is intended to be primarily of a technical nature, and should be of direct interest to the power system engineers working within the industry. It is intended to address head on the issues of technical feasibility and reliability that are a prime concern of the electricity supply sector, especially when faced with demanding technical change.

Feasibility of Infrastructures Supporting Low Carbon Energy Systems Workstream

Background: Energy Infrastructures play a critical role in facilitating (or constraining) transition pathways towards low carbon energy systems. Evidence of bottlenecks in network developments acting to constrain the current generation of onshore wind generation continues to grow so there is an imperative to think longer term in network infrastructures. Such longer term assessment supported by the Cluster 1 activity on transitions and scenarios will provide the analytical framework for such thinking.

Aims and objectives: This work stream will produce primarily quantitative assessment models and 1: analyses illustrating clearly the feasibility of energy infrastructures relating to the low carbon transition pathways at the national, regional and local levels and with particular emphasis on electricity. While drawing on tested approaches, the application of these methods to the low carbon energy system transitions requires original and incremental model development on existing platforms. The key objectives are to:

  • Develop an energy infrastructures modelling base to study the feasibility of energy infrastructures in the various transition pathways and specifically to identify:
    • the feasible energy infrastructure transitions that must occur to facilitate the shift to low carbon transport, electricity, buildings and commerce/industry;
    • the manner in which electricity, gas, heat, and hydrogen infrastructures can be optimised in a coordinated manner over full transition pathways.
  • Develop electricity infrastructures modelling base to study the feasibility of electricity infrastructures in the various transition pathways and specifically to address the following issues:
    • electricity transmission grid evolution to facilitate a low carbon energy systems;
    • feasible local electricity distribution networks evolution for the connection of low-carbon buildings with high penetrations of micro-generators;
    • the role of network technologies such as FACTS, long- and short-term energy storage and demand response in supporting infrastructures for low carbon transition pathways.