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Can country-led decarbonisation efforts help achieve a 2⁰C pathway? Henri Waisman’s message is inspiring and positive

Cara PJenkinson19 October 2015

19 – 25 October marks the inaugural Global Climate Change Week (#GCCW). GCCW is a new initiative designed to encourage academics in all disciplines and countries to engage with their students and communities on climate change action and solutions. UCL IEDE, UCL-Energy, UCL ISR and UCL ISH academics and students will be holding events and blogging through the week to share thoughts and ideas for the future.

landscape-201057_1920-pixa

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How can the European Commission tackle the growing challenge of energy poverty across EU Member States?

StevePye24 June 2015

EU_lights2This piece is based on the recently published report by the INSIGHT_E consortium ‘Energy poverty and vulnerable consumers in the energy sector across the EU: analysis of policies and measures’. The full report can be found on the INSIGHT_E website, www.insightenergy.org (more…)

‘Shifting to a low carbon economy: a piece of cake? Jean-Marc Jancovici’s seminar is not to be missed

Frederic CSteimer22 June 2015

co2 and h2o emmissionsJean-Marc Jancovici, one of the most famous energy experts in France, will be giving a seminar on June 29th, on the historical importance of energy!  Industrial revolutions, post-war boom, recessions or crisis: do not miss the opportunity to learn about the central role of energy in the economies of our modern societies! (more…)

The power of reducing energy consumption is in our hands

CatalinaSpataru19 June 2015

Setting a thermostat to cool in the summer.

Setting a thermostat to cool in the summer.

According to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, which represents 84% of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion. From this 32% of the world’s population represent Christians. The demographic study was based on an analysis of more than 2,500 census, surveys and population registers.

Also, Pew Research Center has published results on % who believe there is solid evidence that Earth is getting warmer  (more…)

Sunny thoughts from ECEEE’s Summer Study on Energy Efficiently

PaulaMorgenstern10 June 2015

View - Conference Site

View from the conference site

The 12th ECEEE (European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy) Summer Study on Energy Efficiency took place from the 1-6th of June in the south of France. Three colleagues from UCL-Energy Institute were fortunate enough to be part of this week of presentations, discussions and workshops around energy efficiency. They left with smiles and many new ideas thanks to an event bringing together experts from many different sectors and backgrounds. Everyone’s shared ambition to make energy efficiency a reality (as reflected in the conference slogan “First Fuel Now”) made networking easy and differences in worldviews a conversation starter rather than an obstacle. Okay, maybe the generous supply of French wine the summer study is famous for also contributed here.

Find out here which new thoughts Gesche Huebner, Mike Fell and Paula Morgenstern have brought back to London from ECEEE:

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Decision-Making in the Face of Uncertainty: Jim Watson Discusses The Future of UK Carbon Reductions at UCL

Melissa CLott17 December 2014

This December, Professor Jim Watson spoke at UCL on the topic of decision-making in the face of uncertainty. As the lead author of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) synthesis reportUK Energy Strategies Under Uncertainty” Professor Watson discussed key technical, economic, political, and social uncertainties in the UK’s low carbon transition.

To date, the United Kingdom has met the targets set out in its carbon budgets, moving the country closer to its 2050 goal of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions compared to 1990 levels. But, existing uncertainties lead to questions regarding the achievability of future carbon budgets, as was shown with the controversy surrounding the 4th carbon budget (2023-27). When the budget was originally passed, it came with the condition that it should be reviewed. Only recently has the government accepted the recommendation from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) that the budget should not be relaxed.

In his talk Professor Watson discussed uncertainties facing the future of the UK low carbon transition and the impacts of these uncertainties on decision-making. His presentation was largely based on a recent UKERC report that not only focused on current uncertainties but also provided a list of steps that could be taken to either reduce the uncertainty itself or its potential impacts.

Note: UCL Energy Institute’s Steve Pye, Nagore Sabio, Neil Strachan, and UCL ISR’s Christophe McGlade also contributed to this report.

The presentation emphasized uncertainties in the future of electricity generation, heat, and transportation in a national low carbon transition (slides found online here and video found here). But, according to Professor Watson, the report also covered topics like energy efficiency and impacts on ecosystem services. Overall, the UKERC’s work came to seven major conclusions (paraphrased below):

  1. Electricity decarbonisation is essential in the shorter term

Power sector decarbonisation by 2030 is essential if the UK is to meet carbon emissions targets and also minimise the costs of doing so. As this process will require large amounts of capital investment, the question of capital availability is important. While these is not necessarily a shortage of available capital in absolute terms, funding is not boundless and electricity decarbonisation investments must compete with other investment options. In turn, changes to policy frameworks, market structures and business models may be needed to attract that capital to the UK power sector.

  1. Limited existing technology options for large-scale, low-carbon electricity

There are currently a limited number of options for large-scale low carbon electricity generation technologies that can have a significant impact on electricity sector decarbonisation before 2030. Furthermore, all of these options face economic, technical and political challenges. According to the report, “given the financial resources required and the political tensions with some of these technologies, it will be tough for the government and industry to maintain momentum on all of them. It is therefore essential that any decisions to prioritise particular technologies are evidence based.”

  1. For heating and transport, electrification might (not) not be the best route

Much of the focus in decarbonizing transportation and heat has been placed on electrification. However, it is not yet clear if this is the best route for reducing emissions in these sectors. In turn, emphasis should be placed on continuing experimentation, demonstration and learning for each potential option. This learning process should include both technical and non-technical factors (e.g. consumer attitudes, business models, regulatory frameworks).

4. Energy efficiency can buy time

Should the deployment of low-carbon technologies struggle, energy efficiency can buy time and assist in meeting carbon goals. Efficiency projects are also an effective way to reduce consumers’ bills. Therefore, action to increase energy efficiency should be a short-term priority.

  1. Public engagement is essential

Engagement with people and communities is an essential component of the UK’s low carbon transition. Genuine engagement is needed so that public attitudes to energy system change – and not just to individual technologies – are taken into account in this transition. This engagement should also focus on how the shift to more sustainable energy systems should be organized and paid for. This approach could not only increase the chances of public support for change, it could also open up possibilities for compromise

6.   Delay is risky

There are significant risks to scaling back the UK’s low carbon ambitions, as some have advocated including not only prolonged reliance on a fossil fuel based energy system but also the resulting exposure of consumers and the UK economy to the potential impacts of high fossil fuel prices. However, under the current low carbon transition plan, natural resource issues – including controversies related to shale gas and biomass – are also important and may limit the extent to which they can be developed and used.

7. Implications for ecosystems is unclear

The transition to a low carbon energy system will have uncertain implications for ecosystems, both in the UK and globally. While this report presents evident suggesting that low carbon technologies will have fewer and/or less serious impacts than fossil fuels, it also states that the evidence base is weak and that significant further research is needed.

Among China’s top three energy sources, two are now renewable

BoranLi12 December 2014

While browsing online for information about electricity generation from renewable sources, I found a rather surprising “olds” reported by CleanTechnica back in January 2013, that China’s electricity produced from wind has already surpass the amount from nuclear, hence became the third largest source of electricity. This implies a seemingly impressive achievement: among top three energy sources in China, two of them are renewable, hydro and wind power. This is really remarkable, even compared with most developed economies in the world. Based on data provided by IEA, advanced economies including the US, the UK and Germany have their electricity mainly from coal, gas and nuclear. None of these sources is renewable!

boran liShould we applaud for this achievement of China, one of the biggest polluters in the world? Ehhh, probably we need to look deeper into this firstly.

One reason behind why wind could make its way into the top three is that the top two sources produce more than 93% electricity in China; more specifically, around 76% from coal and 17% from hydro (around 5% for wind in 2013). With this two big players in electricity generation, it is not that hard for other new growing technologies to join the team of top three, while no significant impact upon carbon emission could be realised during this process. Even though, the 17% figure for hydro itself also looks very impressive. But recently, there are many debate in China about if it is worthy to decarbonise by building dams, considering their significant by-product of damaging local ecosystems. The biggest dam in the world, Three Gorges Dam, was once a national treasure of the Chinese public and an important showcase of the powerful Chinese government, but if you search on the internet now, all you get are its damages to local weather, endangered species and reservoir area geological structure. Due to lack of rigorous planning and impact assessment before constructions of many government hydro-power projects, and countless resulted side effects, it is a growing consensus in China that all the dames will all be pulled down, sooner or later.

Similar problems occurred to wind energy development as well. For many local governments, one of the main objectives of developing wind energy is vanity of local officers. This leads to the issue that local government lacks incentives and therefore expertise to conduct detailed planning before building up wind power plants. In many cases, poor integration planning and inadequately developed electricity storage technologies raised the issue of electricity waste. In 2013 the amount of wasted electricity was estimated to be equivalent to the whole year usage of Beijing, this means only 2.5% of actual consumed electricity in China came from wind last year. Compared with the 5% production figure, half of them was thrown back into the air. Moreover, in some extreme cases, government officers only realised the wind power plant was not connected to the grid after the construction was finished.

We should not deny the great achievement that wind produced electricity in China soared 1580% from 5710GWh in 2007 to 95978GWh in 2012, which cannot be done without a strong centralised government. In less developed market economies like China, private businesses may take longer to respond to changes of market signals and advances of technologies, it is therefore government’s responsibility to plan and build the future. But with a strong Soviet style planning tradition, Chinese government still need time to learn how to give the freedom back to the market. Nowadays, even with generous subsidies provided by the central government, many green-tech businesses are complaining that they are physically crowded out by large scale wind and solar power plants invested by local governments. This conflict of crowding-out is set to be more intense in China than in well-developed democratic countries, considering China’s capitalist economic based and the single party bureaucratic (deliberately avoid using a strong word) upper structure. Given all the negative impacts from state initiated projects, it might be high time for government to learn when and where to take its muddy hands off, and let the market go.

Would you let your energy supplier turn off your heating?

MichaelFell8 December 2014

Mike Fell gives the background to a recent co-authored paper which explores what people think about efforts to influence when they use electricity.

What does it mean to be “in control” in relation to energy? And why does it matter? It’s perhaps easier to begin with the second question.

The subject of electricity blackouts has been big in the news recently. While the risk of blackouts is low, the continuing closure of older coal-powered generators means that there is less and less spare capacity on the grid to meet peaks in electricity demand.

Sameer Vasta_cropOne way to increase capacity is build more generators. Another is reduce demand, or attempt to alter the timing of demand to avoid getting such high peaks. The latter (known as demand-side response or DSR) can be achieved in a number of ways, such as by charging a higher price per unit of electricity at peak times (like in Economy 7). Alternatively, a signal can be sent directly to technology (such as fridges or electric heating systems) in people’s homes telling it to use more or less electricity at certain times.

Demand-side response can only be effective if enough people decide to take part, so that enough demand for electricity (or “load”) can be moved around in time. However, research into what people think about it (and some press coverage) suggest that this wide participation is by no means assured. One of the key concerns expressed is around “loss of control”, where some third party attempts to influence (or even directly control) people’s electricity use.

It is important to understand this concern if DSR programmes are to be designed in such a way that people want to take part. So what does it actually mean to be “in control” in relation to energy, and how do people think this might change under different ways of doing DSR?

We held group discussions with people we expected to have different experiences of control in relation to energy. Some had gas central heating (with comparatively high individual control of heating) while some had district heating (their heating was externally controlled – they didn’t have room thermostats). Some were already on a time of use electricity tariff. The anonymous quotes in the rest of this post come from these groups.

Rather than there being a simple idea of “control over energy”, a number of different dimensions of control emerged:

  • Control over the services that energy provides us with (and which lead to comfort, e.g. heat, light, etc.).
  • Control over timing, or the feeling of being able to do things when you want.
  • Control over how much you spend on energy.
  • A general sense of control and independence in one’s life (autonomy).

When people thought about different ways of doing DSR, these dimensions of control were all affected in different ways. Often with time of use pricing people felt they would have more control over spending (‘you have got some more control cause you can look at the, “oh right OK let’s put the washing machine on now”’), but less flexibility in when they did things and potentially over comfort.

This was especially true of “dynamic” time of use pricing, where electricity prices can be different every day – unlike tariffs such as Economy 7 which remain the same week after week. Such dynamic tariffs allow the possibility of making the most of variable wind generation, but were thought (by people in the groups) to be problematic due to their unpredictable nature and the extent to which people would be reliant on automation to make the most of them (‘We’re not robots!’).

In the case of direct control of technology, some people were worried about overall loss of autonomy – a sort of “Big Brother” scenario (‘That means they’re controlling your life basically’). Others weren’t so concerned about this so long as it happened in the background and allowed them to get on with their lives as they chose (‘If it’s … something that happens in the background and doesn’t actually affect your usage … for me personally I don’t think I have an issue with them controlling it’).

These results suggest some challenges for DSR. How to retain the attractive sense of control over spending that time of use pricing offers, while minimizing worries about flexibility? Perhaps personalizing tariffs to households’ individual circumstances could hold the key. In the case of direct control of technology there are certainly people who are implacably against this form of external influence, while others may happily accept it under the right conditions (e.g. with the possibility to override it). But these conditions must strike a balance between acceptability and the aim of getting demand reductions with appropriate speed, duration and reliability.

The findings also suggest the usefulness of looking at control in a systematic way. Indeed, this approach has informed our subsequent research which used a representative survey of Great Britain to find out more about people’s preferences for different DSR electricity tariffs. We hope to post more on the findings of this work soon.

Read the full paper here: Exploring perceived control in domestic electricity demand-side response, Michael J. Fell, David Shipworth, Gesche M. Huebner & Clifford A. Elwell, published in Technology Analysis & Strategic Management volume 26, issue 10, 2014.

Tags: demand-side response, time of use tariffs, direct load control, perceived control, electricity, domestic

Photo: “Happy Show” (cropped) by Sameer Vasta under a Creative Commons licence.

EPSRC visit the UCL Energy Institute

CarolynBehar3 December 2014

On Friday the EPSRC visited UCL Energy to host a workshop discussing future directions for Energy research funding. About 50 delegates from across

Prof Bob Lowe of UCL-Energy welcomes EPSRC

Prof Bob Lowe of UCL-Energy welcomes EPSRC

UCL attended the day which included seminars, interactive workshops and plenty of time for lively discussion and debate. Energy research accounts for 23% of the EPSRCs funding portfolio, and is the largest industrial sector directly supported by EPSRC.

Jason Green, Head of Energy at EPSRC, introduced the morning session, focusing on our need to make a case for energy research that is not just all about CO2 emission reductions, but that addresses the ‘energy trilemma’ of:

  • GHG emissions
  • Security of supply
  • Reducing costs

It was great to hear that there is a strong interest in expanding UK energy research capacity, and that there are opportunities to develop more international work in the area. This was followed by an introduction to the UCL Energy Institute’s energy research by BSEER Director Professor Tadj Oreszczyn.

Next, we formed small break-out groups to discuss the question ‘what research areas would you protect, reduce or grow?’ This was a challenging task as, unsurprisingly, everyone believes their own research area should be protected or grown! However, we were forced to think about how we would defend our work in the context of the wide range of energy research that is currently being funded, and how our own research feeds into the overarching aims of the ‘Energy’ theme.

After lunch, there were a series of interactive parallel workshops covering the following themes:

  • Developing leaders
  • Cross-disciplinary research
  • Building international reputation
  • Impact
Jason Green of EPSRC opens the morning session

Jason Green of EPSRC opens the morning session

I attended the first two on the above list. In ‘developing leaders’ we heard about the EPSRC fellowship scheme for energy research. Fellowship are available for ‘post-doctoral’, ‘early career’ and ‘established career’ researchers and may provide a great opportunity for career progression.

Cross-disciplinary research is a particularly challenging endeavour, yet one which is increasingly important as it becomes apparent that the mono-disciplinary approach falls short when it comes to addressing the complexity of energy research.

Professor Neil Strachan set us the challenge to consider how our own disciplines could contribute to a specific research brief and then to suggest how other disciplines could support us in achieving this goal. We were divided into groups of social scientists, economists, engineers and natural scientists. We then shared feedback between the groups to see if the services we were offering from our own disciplines aligned with what others felt it would be useful for us to contribute.

Needless to say this provoked a lively response which we were still debating when the session drew to a close…

Overall it was a stimulating day and we’d like to thank EPSRC for coming to see us.

UCL Energy Institute participates in Prince Charles round table on energy and climate change in Mexico

BaltazarSolano Rodriguez2 December 2014

Last month, I took part in a high level round table on Mexico’s energy future within the context of global climate change. The event was held as part of the visit of Prince Charles to Mexico, prior to 2015: the year of Mexico in the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom in Mexico.

The main objective of the meeting was to foster a dialogue with senior representatives of business, government and academia on how to ensure that Mexico’s recent energy reforms can be made as positive as possible in social and environmental terms. Participants at this private meeting included Deputy Ministers of the Secretariat of Energy (SENER) and the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), as well as Directors from the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC), British Petroleum, BG-Group, McKinsey, Carbon Trust Mexico, WWF and ICLEI amongst others.

Mexico’s recent energy reforms enable for the first time since 1938 significant international investment in the Mexican energy sector. These laws open deep-water oil and shale fields to foreign investment, as well as liberalising Mexico’s electricity industry. According to President Peña Nieto the energy reforms will increase oil production from the current 2.3m barrels a day to 3m in 2018 and 3.5m in 2025. Natural gas production will also increase dramatically from 5,700 million cubic feet a day to 8,000 million in 2018 and to 10,400 million in 2025. This investment could potentially bring about significant economic progress and – if done well through the new Stabilisation and Development Oil Fund – play an important role in enabling Mexico’s ambitious renewable energy commitments to be met. The reforms also have the potential, however, to lead to a net increase in Mexico’s greenhouse gas emissions over time, and thereby put in jeopardy Mexico’s legally binding climate targets. Mexico is the first developing country to have passed a General Law on Climate Change (and second in the world after the UK) and remains a key partner of the UK in brokering a strong multilateral climate deal in Paris in 2015.

During my participation I challenged the perceived role of gas as transition fuel in Mexico, following UCL’s modelling work led by Dr Christophe McGlade and recently published by UKERC (www.ukerc.ac.uk/support/tiki-download_file.php?fileId=3716). I also shared my concerns that an over-investment in gas powered electricity generation could lead to carbon lock-in constraints to long-term climate policy aims, and that delaying action to decarbonise the energy system until after 2020s – but still striving for the same cumulative emissions reduction could prove very challenging.

As a result of this round table UCL Energy Institute is holding conversations with Mexico’s Secretariat of Energy to explore a potential energy systems modelling collaboration.