Imperial College London

New report highlights the key decisions needed for a decarbonised energy system


A cola fired power station

Researchers from Imperial College London have determined the key decisions that need to be made to create a low carbon energy sector in the UK by 2030

A team from the Imperial Centre for Energy Policy and Technology (ICEPT) has published a review that makes recommendations for the policy choices, and investor actions, needed for the UK to have a low-carbon energy sector by 2030. The research concludes that there are a set of key decisions that need to be made, soon, to ensure we see the necessary investment in innovation, production and standardisation.

The work, carried out by a team of five researchers, outlines how the UK can find its way to a low-carbon economy. “The various energy scenarios we looked at are very thorough and show that substantial decarbonisation is possible,” explains Dr Rob Gross, Director of ICEPT and lead author of the paper, “But we need to understand how what we have now in 2015 becomes that low-carbon energy system by 2030.” The group looked at a number of scenarios from academia, industry and government that envisage substantial decarbonisation of the UK’s energy sector by 2030. By examining the problem from a whole-system perspective the paper outlines what needs to be done if these low-carbon futures are to become a reality.

The team broke energy use into three distinct types, heat, transport and electricity. While decarbonisation of electricity has been tackled by many other groups, heat and transport are both a lot trickier. This is due to the seasonal fluctuations and high energy use for heating and the effect changes in transport could have on electricity demand and supporting infrastructures.

The paper highlights the decisions that need to be made across the three areas to achieve the desired outcomes portrayed in the scenarios. At times decisions in different areas are at odds with each other and the team describe the informed choices that must be made to narrow down the range of options. There are also recommendations on cost effective regulations that can promote the necessary shifts without appearing too top-down or causing a political backlash.

The final outcome is a list of 17 decisions that the team believes need to be made by urgently. “Given the timescales needed for change we believe that decarbonisation won't happen unless the questions we have posed are answered.” says Dr Gross.

The report's key suggestions are wide ranging. They include long term investment in reducing energy demand for heating, analysis of the potential role for decarbonised gas, regulatory measures to underpin the move away from fossil fuel use in transport and introducing plans for the next stages of energy infrastructure delivery.

The full paper Energy system crossroads - time for decisions [PDF] is available to download from the ICEPT website. It was produced with support from the European Climate Foundation.


Neasan O'Neill

Neasan O'Neill
Faculty of Engineering

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