Imperial College London

Designing the UK’s low-carbon, integrated energy system


London skyline at night inlcuding St Pauls and The Shard

Imperial College London have announced a new £7m project to help the UK build a better, low-carbon energy system.

Today Imperial College London announce the Integrated Development of Low-Carbon Energy Systems: A Whole-System Paradigm for Creating a National Strategy project (IDLES). IDLES brings together researchers from across the College to provide the UK with the evidence and data needed to ensure that the country can build a low-carbon future.

“We know that deep-decarbonisation of the UK’s energy system requires decisions and actions by a wide variety of people and organisations,” says Professor Tim Green of Energy Futures Lab, the project’s leader, “The challenge for us is to generate the evidence for governments and businesses to guide their individual investments so we can achieve a resilient and cost-effective system.”

The future of energy is clearly in integration ... and I am delighted to see it being led by the College Professor Nick Jennings

At the heart of the project is the concept of energy systems integration. The idea is that by looking across electricity, heating, cooling and transport, and thinking about the service needs that determine energy use, a more effective and efficient system can be reached than means less waste and less carbon emission. An example is that wind turbines may sometimes generate more electricity than needed at that time but the “excess” could be used to produce hydrogen to decarbonise the gas grid or used to charge an electric vehicle’s battery, which can later provide balancing services to the electricity grid. The benefits of a national integrated energy system were recently laid out in Energy Futures Lab’s recent Briefing Paper Unlocking the potential of Energy Systems Integration.

The IDLES programme aims to make understanding these kinds of system easier by building on the wealth of experience and expertise at the College in modelling complex systems. The team, which includes researchers from seven different departments, aims to create a new way of thinking about our energy system so the UK can build a low-carbon energy system while ensuring alignment with long-term national policy objectives.Electricity pylonsThe project is not a purely academic exercise. Delivering an integrated energy system needs the input of stakeholders from across government and industry. The team therefore includes a wide range of partners from industry and Government such as EDF Energy, ABB, National Grid and the Greater London Authority, as well as having the support of seven small-medium enterprises  active in the energy space. This will ensure that the findings from IDLES will have an impact on the energy sector and be used by stakeholders across the energy sphere.

“The future of energy is clearly in integration but is not something you can tackle on your own,” says Professor Nick Jennings, Vice-Provost (Research and Enterprise) at Imperial College London, “IDLES is a unique project and I am delighted to see it being led by the College and for there to be such strong industrial engagement with the work plan. From a personal perspective, Im also delighted to be part of the team as a co-investigator on this research”

The challenge for us is to generate the evidence for governments and businesses to guide their individual investments so we can achieve a resilient and cost-effective system. Professor Tim Green

The team’s research will focus on understanding the increasingly complex interactions between electricity, gas, heat and transport systems. The result will be a suite of software tools that can provide a range of possible futures for the UK’s energy system. Alongside this will be policy advice on how to make each option a reality and insights into the technologies that will be needed to support it.

“The UK has made good progress toward our climate targets but there is a long way to go, especially outside of the electricity sector and fundamental change is needed for us to have a positive impact on the environment,” says Professor Green, “This will be much simpler with a truly integrated system that works for the whole country and the economy. We believe that IDLES can deliver the data and tools need to do this.”

Officially starting in November, the Integrated Development of Low-Carbon Energy Systems project will run for 5 years with £7m of funding from EPSRC and £5m of industrial support.

The project is being coordinated by Energy Futures Lab, a cross-discipline institute based at Imperial College London. The institute was founded in 2005 to develop multidisciplinary, cross-faculty collaborations to tackle the broad range of energy challenges that the world faces. You can learn more about the institute and energy research at Imperial College London at //



Neasan O'Neill

Neasan O'Neill
Faculty of Engineering

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