The use of Whole Energy System Analysis in decision-making across scales

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Chemical Engineering

Abstract

Decarbonisation strategies based on whole energy system analysis are critical in the transition to a low carbon economy. Energy system integration is attracting increasing interest across scales, and scenarios show how electricity, heat and transport fuels are likely to become ever more interlinked in sustainable transitions. At the same time, whilst energy policy is largely determined centrally by the UK government, devolved and decentralised energy systems are emerging driven by technology developments and local priorities. However, policies which impact the use and supply of energy (including non-energy policies), and the related infrastructure, are dispersed across government departments and many other organisations at each level of governance, from local to national to transnational. These policies are proving to be critical to driving large-scale public and private sector investment in the energy system, with recent policy changes having been observed to damage investor confidence.

This scoping study will analyse how whole energy system analysis is currently used in decision-making processes across scales, and identify ways in which the research - policy - decision-making relationship could be improved in the future. We will consider the key whole-system models and tools being used, their perceived value and limitations in representing the energy system across scales, the key channels for research-policy linkages, and how the model outputs are actually used in practice.

Fundamentally, we will challenge the assumption that there is simply a 'model deficit' - i.e. that 'better' models would give better evidence, leading to better decisions and outcomes. Rather, we expect a complex interplay between the modelling, supporting research and the decision-making processes - a complexity which is especially acute when considering the multi-scalar landscape of the energy system. We must also reflect that whole energy system models should not only be developed to meet short term policy needs within an existing or anticipated paradigm, but can be tools to explore alternative futures over the longer term.

We propose a novel approach to mapping the science-policy interface of whole energy system analysis across scales. By assessing this complexity in a scoping study we can begin to address the factors that are limiting the value of whole energy system modelling to decision makers across scales, and guide future work to propose ways in which the value can be increased through improvements both to the models and decision-making processes. We will examine:

- processes of collaboration and exchange between actors using the models in the decision-making process, within and between scales. We will conduct preliminary case studies of policy formation and the role of modelling at UK, Scottish and an exemplar city scales (Birmingham and Leeds), covering policy-makers, the modelling community, intermediaries and the role of other stakeholders. This will allow us to describe the complexity that exists in decision making processes and compare/contrast the different case studies.

- how whole systems models at different scales (international, national, local) could be more effectively integrated or reconciled, and what additional insights this would provide. We will identify promising research opportunities that may arise from developing multi-scale tools (and/or linking tools across scales) and representing new technologies that will have an impact on the energy system at different scales.

Planned Impact

Our aim is to engage with stakeholders to understand the reality of decision making informed by whole energy system modelling and analysis at different scales. To further this aim, we have already engaged with, and received nine formal Letters of Support for the proposed project. These individuals are very positive about the potential impacts of the study, seeing its relevance to their work, and have agreed to participate, offering time and information.

We have chosen to take a thematic focus on heat, which is now an area of central concern in UK energy futures, but also of considerable uncertainty. This will give us an opportunity to draw specific (though initial) conclusions from our analysis, to inform the work of policy-makers, modellers and intermediary organisations.

People
Our intent is to draw on expertise, and also to build collaborative networks that would last beyond the length of the study as part of a follow-up project, or to be self-sustaining where participants see value in learning from the experiences of others.
In developing our outputs, we will collaborate with the UK's energy research community (through key interdisciplinary research centres including UKERC and CESI), intermediary and advisory organisations working at the research-policy interface (such as the UK Committee on Climate Change and ClimateXChange) and directly with policy, research strategy and other bodies.
Our workshop activities will promote interaction between actors and organisations across different scales.

Knowledge
Academic impact will be pursued through at least two papers for publication in leading disciplinary and interdisciplinary journals. As well as these generic outputs, more context-specific outputs will include reports summarising the results of our Edinburgh and London workshops. The final synthesis report will bring together generic and context-specific insights and identify recommendations for further research.
We will also draw on our links with established interdisciplinary whole systems research centres such as UKERC and CESI, to position our findings within the UK's expanding portfolio of whole systems research, and how our scoping insights could be taken forwards to best complement other research efforts sponsored by the Energy Systems Catapult and EPSRC.

Society
Short (maximum 4 page) Policy Briefing Notes will be prepared on (i) model-linking across domains and scales and (ii) expert participation and elicitation methods. These will be disseminated through our website and other channels.
For policymakers in terms of improved understanding of whole energy system and infrastructure change, we will engage with the policy teams across scales.

Economy
Our study aims to improve decision making across scales, such that investments can be made in energy infrastructure that allow a cost-effective transition to low carbon. An Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) report found a difference of > £10bn/yr in expenditure needed to meet climate change targets, depending on whether there was a centrally coordinated or regionally fragmented energy strategy. To secure wider business and research impact we will seek to present our findings at high-profile industry and academic conferences hosted by key organisations.

Delivery of impact
One important mechanism to enable impact will be through our Project Advisory Group (PAG).
We will create a project website, to publish project findings, blogposts and publicise related activities at partner institutions and elsewhere. We will also offer guest blogposts and comment articles to UKERC, the Energy Systems Catapult and others.
For policy, business and research impact, we will work with the Energy Systems Catapult to identify specific opportunities for impact. For example, we will offer to host a Catapult webinar for business, researchers and other stakeholders.
 
Description The scoping study found wide variation, and a pattern of weak cross-scale links, in research generation, exchange and use for decision-making at different scales. Whole systems analysis typically 'belongs' to a particular scale and is seen as marginal by those working at other scales. In-part, weak cross-scale linkages reflect the limitations of analysis and models to operate well across scales, but it also reflects divergent policy concerns and needs (and institutional capacities), and the lack of strong cross-scale intermediary and advisory bodies. The key points were:
1. At the UK level there is a relatively mature knowledge system in terms of whole-energy-system analysis, with established intermediary and advisory institutions to translate evidence for decision-making processes. However, this system is confronting a rapidly changing policy agenda, with greater emphasis on clean growth and industry strategy, and, from a devolved or local / city perspective, evidence produced at the UK national scale often lacks relevance.
2. At the Scottish level there is a growing interest (and analytical capacities) in whole energy systems analysis and decision-making, as the Scottish Government pursues an integrated and managed approach to energy transition. However, there are also many analytical and governance challenges, and both downscale links (to local and city scales) and upscale links (to UK and GB scales) need strengthening.
3. At the City / Local level local authorities are increasingly developing local energy strategies, but they tend to lack analytic capacity compared to devolved and UK levels, partly because their formal responsibilities in energy are limited. Reflecting this deficit, consulting firms are often relied on, both to generate scale-specific analysis, but also to translate analysis from devolved / UK scales.
Our analysis showed that the existing state-of-the-art in cross scale systems modelling is limited, particularly in linking national scale modelling to local scale analysis and decision-making, though the Energy Systems Catapult is advancing this through work on EPN-ESME linkages. Improved cross scale modelling was seen as valuable, but on its own insufficient, to overcome the barriers to better use of whole system evidence across scales. This confirmed a hypothesis from our scoping proposal: that the limited effectiveness of whole systems research could not be solely attributed to a modelling deficit. Our scoping research also highlighted the importance of better processes for knowledge intermediation and effective institutions to translate knowledge across scales.
Exploitation Route The findings came from a scoping study to investigate the processes and analyses used for decision-making in energy policy, testing some methodologies and high-level hypotheses. The initial findings allow us to draw some conclusions for policy makers, but will be examined more thoroughly in a follow-up project if supported. We expect to provide specific recommendations for processes and modelling that will allow the improved use of whole systems analysis in decision-making.
Sectors Energy,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/energy/research/other-research/ascend/across-scales-in-energy-decision-making-ascend.aspx
 
Description The project has been a short (9 month) scoping study, but has seen wide engagement with policy-makers and industry through workshops and interviews. Signs of impact are just beginning to emerge, but participants have asked for specific outputs (including on how actors are connected in decision-making processes), and cited one of the events as part of stakeholder engagement for policy development.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Member of EPSRC Energy Scientific Advisory Committee
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
URL http://epsrc.ukri.org/research/ourportfolio/themes/energy/programme/further-information-about-the-pr...
 
Description Response to Call for engagement on Ofgem's Research Hub
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
URL https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/publications-and-updates/ofgem-research-hub-update
 
Description 2050 Calculator Update 'The MacKay Carbon Calculator" workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact about 20 attendees at workshop in Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to provide input/advice on government-developed tool for public engagement around energy; discussions informed updated tool
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Across Scales in Energy Decision Making (ASCEND) workshop, Edinburgh 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The workshop brought together policy, business, research and other communities to discuss the challenges of whole energy systems analysis and decision-making across scales, and identify opportunities for improved analysis and strategy. It was designed as a constructive space for discussion on Scotland's energy strategy among policy, research, business and other groups, and the cross-scale opportunities and challenges involved. It was cited by the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham MSP in a letter to the Scottish Parliament's Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee as part of the Government's engagement for the Climate Change Plan (http://www.parliament.scot/S5_Environment/General%20Documents/20180123_CS_to_Conv_on_Climate_Change_Plan_WEB.pdf).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/energy/research/other-research/ascend/ascend-workshop...
 
Description Across Scales in Energy Decision-making (ASCEND) London Stakeholder workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The 'Ascend' scoping study had been analysing how energy decision making is informed by whole energy systems analysis across scales. We were particularly interested in the multi-scalar nature of policy and analysis for heat.
The study was coming to its conclusion and we discussed our emerging findings at this workshop, bringing together policy, business, research and other communities, to get views on how the research - policy - decision-making relationship could be improved in the future, and how a follow-on project could build on the work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/energy/research/other-research/ascend/ascend-stakehol...
 
Description British Council workshop on "Bilateral Cooperation between Mexico and the United Kingdom in Energy Sustainability" 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A bilateral workshop to identify the strategic priority areas where UK and Mexican researchers can collaborate in joint R&D projects, which led to a call for research proposals under the Newton Fund.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Contribution to IEA Expert Group on R&D Priority Setting and Evaluation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The goal of the workshop was to learn from examples of how the transition from blue skies research to application has been successfully undertaken in other sectors for example, space research, medicine or solid state physics in the context of microelectronics, and to identify from current basic research selected areas or ideas that might potentially have a huge impact on the energy sector. This should inform an understanding of how different governments engage in, fund, and structure their investments in energy-related basic science programmes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.ieadsm.org/wp/files/IEA_EGRD_Blue_Sky_Workshop_Final.pdf
 
Description Member of the UKERC Whole Systems Networking Fund steering group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Supporting delivery phase of UKERC Whole Systems Networking Fund that will involve a series of calls for small and large networking grant proposals. Advising on future direction of fund.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
URL http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/programmes/networking-fund.html