EPSRC/ESC Follow on Funding: Operationalising Socio-Technical Energy Transitions

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Bartlett Sch of Env, Energy & Resources

Abstract

The implementation phase of the energy system transition has shown that ambitious decarbonisation strategies must not only encompass radical techno-economic change but also incorporate societal and political dimensions as well. Socio-Technical Energy Transitions (STET) represents the cutting-edge of truly interdisciplinary academic research - incorporating a marriage of qualitative and quantitative elements in the multi-level perspective, co-evolutionary theories, the application of complexity science, and the use of adaptive policy pathways. However despite the vibrancy of academic research, the impact of STET research on policy and industrial decision-making to date has been negligible.

This proposal (O-STET) is focused on operationalising and applying this highly novel interdisciplinary approach. O-STET will have four main concrete deliverables via two contrasting approaches:
A. STET modelling
1a An open-source modelling framework with agent specific decision-making, and positive/negative feedbacks between political and societal drivers.
2a A stripped down decision maker tool for iterative stakeholder engagement.
B. STET scenarios
1b Logically consistent, uncertainty-exploring scenarios, to frame both qualitative dialogues and existing energy models.
2b In-depth perspectives on branching points and critical components.

The proposal team combines the UK's leading energy systems modelling group (at UCL) with the UK's leading innovation and transitions group at the University of Sussex. The PI is highly experienced at leading major whole systems projects with deep interaction with key stakeholders. In this he is closely supported by the Co-Is at Sussex and UCL, all of whom have a demonstrable success in collaboration, management and output delivery on past EPSRC projects.

Responding directly to the requirements of this EPSRC Call, the O-STET project is structurally embedded with the Energy Systems Catapult, acting as an external "Analytical Laboratory" to the ESC. O-STET will first provide a theoretical and research framing of the ESC's portfolio of energy models and wider project-based assets. Second, bilateral interaction with the ESC will enable novel STET modelling and scenario tools to be iteratively developed and operationalised. Third, to maximise the applicability of the outputs of these new perspectives we will produce a stripped down STET decision-maker tool with a clear graphical user interface (GUI), as well as in-depth perspectives on branching points and critical components for key elements of STET scenarios (for example, new business models).

The O-STET project team and the ESC will then combine as a "Platform" to disseminate STET insights to the full policy and industry energy community, anchored through a set of 6 stakeholder and technical workshops. O-STET will have a major online presence where we will curate and disseminate the open source resources produced under the project; including full models, modular components for hybridisation with other models, model documentation, datasets, socio-technical modelling protocols, scenario templates, data, and policy briefs.

Planned Impact

The major objective of the O-STET project is to operationalise socio-technical energy transitions into tools and approaches that can be applied to the critical policy and industrial decision making challenges when implementing deep decarbonisation policies.

A central element of O-STET will be close interaction with the Energy Systems Catapult (ESC), functioning as an external Analytical Laboratory. The ESC has committed to £50,000 in-kind support to the project, spread across its strategic analysis and business development functions. O-STET will first provide a theoretical and research framing of ESC's portfolio of energy models and project assets. Second, highly novel modelling and scenario tools will be iteratively developed for the operationalisation of STET approaches. Third, to maximise the applicability of these outputs a stripped down STET decision maker tool as well as in-depth perspectives on branching points and critical scenario components will be produced.

We will build on this ESC interaction to provide a Platform to distil and disseminate insights to key stakeholders. Building on the prior scoping study (MPSRI), we have engagement intentions from both policy stakeholders (Committee on Climate Change [CCC], BEIS), and industry stakeholders (Shell and Baringa Consultants), and have asked just one of these key energy systems actors (CCC) to provide a support letter and in-kind staff commitment. A key impact mechanism is the 6 stakeholder and technical workshops (1 per work-package) to codify the concepts, define parameters and assess data for STET models and scenarios, and then to evaluate the new model, decision maker tool, scenarios, and branching points analysis.

The project builds on a number of critical themes explored in prior EPSRC projects. It builds on insights on the future of whole systems modelling from wholeSEM, and on narratives from Realising Transition Pathways. It enriches whole systems policy from UKERC, and informs energy systems ntegration research under CESI. We will tailor invites to 6 stakeholder and technical workshops and already have sustained interest from leading UK universities (Edinburgh, Birmingham, Oxford, Manchester, Leeds, Cranfield, Surrey, Kings College London and Imperial College London), plus internationally leading STET centres of expertise (ISI Franhofer, Germany). The O-STET research team will publish in the highest-impact peer-reviewed journals, and will make 6 presentations at relevant UK and international conferences.

The project commits to producing transparent, accessible and open-source models and scenarios. This will include not only a next-generation STET model that can be adopted by any third party under an open source licence, but also a reduced-form decision maker tool, as well as STET scenarios with detailed branching point and critical component analysis.

O-STET will have a major online presence. All datasets used to calibrate and operationalize the project's models will be freely available. In addition, we will publish policy briefs to provide tailored information and support timely, evidence-based decision-making. Learning from past project's success, the O-STET website will be fed by actively cultivating blog posts, webinars, and social media engagement on multiple platforms (Twitter, LinkedIn, ResearchGate etc).

Finally we will deliver bespoke presentations to partner organisations, and build upon existing advisory roles (e.g. to BEIS and the Energy Systems Catapult) to inform evidence-based reports.

Publications

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