Challenging Lock-in through Urban Energy Systems (CLUES)

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Bartlett Sch of Architecture


Challenging the lock-in of the current centralised UK energy system is essential to delivering the deep carbon cuts required over the period to 2050 to moderate climate change. Decentralised energy initiatives are currently being promoted, increasingly within the urban locations where the majority of the population and economic activity is located. Such decentralisation of energy infrastructure and associated decarbonisation initiatives would considerably change the nature of urban environments to 2050. But, to date, the research emphasis has been on identifying and transferring best practice from project to project without consideration of the limits to decentralisation, the implications for interconnected energy systems and the overall impact on urban areas. There is an urgent need to understand the implications of these decentralisation initiatives from the point of view of energy systems at different scales - urban, regional and national - and in terms of the overall sustainability of future change within urban areas. This involves considering how far such decentralisation could be pursued and what the carbon and other impacts would be. This project, therefore, takes a much-needed critical look at the scope for challenging lock-in through urban energy initiatives. Such energy initiatives are understood to include a combination of decentralised technologies for energy generation with strategies for energy and carbon reduction operating at different scales within urban areas. It will examine the range and types of urban energy systems that could be put in place from an international review and it will consider the issues raised by the need for such initiatives within the UK to integrate with energy systems at urban, regional and national scales in order to deliver energy and carbon reductions effectively. This will be explored through UK implementation studies and examination of innovative initiatives as yet untried in the UK context. The context will be scenario development to 2050 based on existing Foresight scenarios on energy management and the built environment. The project will then undertake a scaling-up exercise to consider the potential contribution to national carbon reduction of aggregating up individual urban energy initiatives. This will involve analysis of the extent to which such initiatives could be rolled out across the country and their carbon impact, given different mixes of energy technologies and carbon reduction strategies. The scaling up exercise will also consider the implications for future urban change using the developed 2050 scenarios. The result will be a critical assessment of future change in urban areas as a result of energy decentralisation and, therefore, the potential contribution of energy inititives within urban areas to carbon reductions at a national scale and urban sustainability to 2050.

Planned Impact

The research will influence: - policy makers through reframing energy and planning policy on promoting decentralisation of energy systems through urban initiatives; - industry through promoting a substantiated vision of how investment in energy infrastructure and urban development could deliver carbon reductions and urban sustainability; - planning bodies by offering lessons for successful implementation of urban energy initiatives and a practical planning tool as well as a robust vision of how urban energy initiatives could contribute to sustainable urban environments in 2050; and - academic researchers through the development of the co-evolutionary framework, the example of interdisciplinary research and the replicable methodologies for scenario development and the scaling up exercise. Close stakeholder engagement and tailored dissemination events will support this impact: - a dedicated web presence for the project hosting all outputs (papers, PP slides, podcasts, blog in interdisciplinary research), kept up to date and offering interactive content; - academic papers (about 9 papers in total are anticipated; towards the end of the project, two landmark papers in internationally prestigious journals will be generated presenting the integrated results of the interdisciplinary work); - Briefing Papers for practitioners produced at regular intervals during the project; - a Project Newsletter providing feedback to all those involved in the case studies; - workshops and seminars to present results and replicable methodologies; and - a launch event at the conclusion of the project together with associated Press Briefings.


10 25 50
Description - The importance of using quantification in the development of narrative scenarios of possible futures to test out the robustness of futures thinking and potential tensions and contradictions, with implications for simple model building in futures work

- The current existence of multiple pathways being pursued in terms of innovation in local energy pathways, creating dilemmas for urban governance of energy

- The construction of success in local energy initiatives in multiple ways, with implications for understanding the diverse motivation of actors in pursuing such initiatives

- The importance of packages of drivers and influencers in promoting specific urban energy initiatives and the highly contextualised nature of these packages implying the importance of local context in terms of barriers, drivers and capacities

- The non-local nature of many actors involved in urban energy initiatives implying cross-scale partnerships in implementation
Exploitation Route Policy makers involved in strategic planning at the local level are able to use the self-evaluation toolkit within the report 'Energy: Looking to the future' and also available online at to assess their local drivers, capacities and barriers in relation to pursuing urban energy initiatives.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction,Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description We do not yet have evidence of the findings being used although we believe the guide for practitioners achieved widespread distribution and we had a productive seminar with Government Foresight on scenario methods.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services