Addressing Valuation of Energy and Nature Together (ADVENT)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Geography


The UK Government is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the environment. Delivering on these parallel objectives, however, involves numerous tensions. Future low-carbon energy pathways that, for example, depend on the sourcing of feedstocks through hydraulic fracking have implications for the availability of clean water and hence for the ecosystem services such resources provide to other industrial, domestic or agricultural users. Likewise, pathways that envisage more wind farms have implications for the quality of the natural landscape and the cultural ecosystem services people derive from the visual enjoyment of those landscapes.

The central objective of this project is to explore future UK low-carbon energy pathways and quantify their differing implications for stocks of natural capital (e.g. groundwater and natural habitats) and for the provision of ecosystem services (e.g. irrigation, visual amenity, recreation). In addition, the project will apply methods of economic valuation to estimate in money terms the value of the ecosystem service changes associated with different future energy pathway. Ultimately, the project seeks to provide policy makers with tools that allow them to take a whole-systems perspective on energy futures in a way that integrates energy and environmental considerations into a single framework.

The research programme will begin with workshops bringing together members of the valuing nature and energy futures research communities. The aim will be to encourage discussion between the participants and to arrive at a shared understanding of the conceptual framework that should underpin the research as well as to establish the baseline of existing knowledge.

Part of that knowledge base will be a description of the particular future energy pathways to be explored in the project. The next task for the research team will be to develop a detailed life cycle characterisation of each pathway. Drawing on previous research, the project will then identify the anticipated ecosystem service impacts of each particular element of a pathway. And, where available, collate evidence regarding the estimated value of those various impacts.

For numerous elements, however, those impacts and/or values may be unknown. Indeed, the project will seek to fill those knowledge gaps through a set of case studies. These will explore aspects of bioenergy, carbon capture and storage, visual disamenity, impacts on marine recreation biodiversity consequences and the impacts of infrastructure to reduce energy demand.

Drawing on the results, the research will then seek to integrate the available evidence so as to assess the environmental impacts of each energy pathway in its entirety. To that end, the project will build on previous work by extending two complementary modelling platforms. The first is a micro-economic model that allows for a spatially-disaggregated exploration of the impacts of each pathway. The second employs macro-economic modelling to understand how natural capital use in different pathways impacts on the broad functioning of the economy and concomitant implications for growth, jobs and trade. To provide a holistic assessment of each pathway, a further work stream will quantify the international implications for natural capital and ecosystems services of UK decisions on future energy systems.

The findings will be made available to academics and policy makers through an extensive programme of dissemination and knowledge exchange. In addition, through training a cohort of PhD studentships, the project seeks to leave a legacy of academic capacity focused on the interface between energy and the environment. Together, the new knowledge and expertise delivered by the project will provide a major contribution to ensuring that energy and natural capital policies can be developed in a coherent manner for the maximal benefit of society as a whole.

Planned Impact

In addition to the academic community, we envisage three groups of key beneficiaries from the research: (i) government departments and public policy makers; (ii) private sector companies in the energy, water and agriculture sectors; and (iii) the public and society more generally. Our communication, engagement and dissemination plans are described in the Pathways to Impact document. Here we outline the expected impacts of these combined activities.

National Decision-Makers:
A fundamental objective of this project is to quantify and value the natural capital and ecosystem services impacts of different energy pathways. Moreover, based on that knowledge, the project will develop decision-support tools that provide a whole-system assessment of different energy futures. Accordingly, the project's outputs will have direct importance to numerous decision-making agencies including the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). Each of those agencies has immediate needs for tools that will allow them to assess and compare different possible energy pathways across both the energy and environment spheres. The project will also provide inputs for agencies involved in national policy making regarding natural capital, particularly the on-going development of natural capital accounts being pursued by the National Capital Committee (NCC), Office of National Statistics (ONS) and HM Treasury (HMT). The research team have long track-records of collaboration with each of these organisations ensuring the project's findings will have a pathway for direct dissemination to the relevant decision-making bodies.

Regional Decision-Makers:
In addition, the project will undertake a number of case studies whose regional focus will provide valuable input to local decision-makers. For instance, research on public attitudes to potential marine energy developments in the Bristol Channel-Severn Estuary (WP5.6) will be of interest to Local Enterprise Partnerships given the economic importance of tourism in the region. Similarly, the work on implications of changes in energy consumption in north-eastern Scotland will be of relevance to unitary authorities within the region with respect to strategic planning and decisions regarding future infrastructure investments.

Private Sector:
Outputs of the project will also be of direct relevance to a number of businesses and organisations in the private sector. The strategic planning of energy companies will be particularly enhanced by better understanding of potential environmental impacts from their operations and how natural capital considerations might constrain these in the future. Similarly, the water supply industry has an obvious interest in the implications of future energy pathways for water resources and how these could influence future investments in abstraction, treatment and distribution infrastructure. The agricultural sector also stand to benefit from project's outputs. In particular, the project will provide insights into possible future demands for bioenergy and spatial variations in the availability of water for irrigation purposes. In addition, the project will provide information directly relevant to businesses in the energy, water and food sectors with interests in developing corporate natural capital accounts.

Public and Wider Society:
The final group to be impacted by the project will be society more generally. The project's outputs will help ensure that the public's valuation of important natural assets such as green spaces used for recreation and landscapes enjoyed for their visual amenity are meaningfully represented in decisions concerning future energy pathways. These insights will also be relevant to the work of many environmental NGOs such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and county wildlife trusts.

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/M019705/1 30/06/2015 31/01/2021
1794287 Studentship NE/M019705/1 01/10/2016 31/01/2021 Philippa Roddis
Description We found from analysis of the Renewable Energy Database that the partial effect of deprevation at LSOA scale has opposite sign for chances of approval of solar vs onshore wind. We will look deeper into why that may be the case via detailed case studies.
An analysis of the Public Attitute Tracker suggests growing chasm between fracking/nuclear (losing support, not supported by younger people) and all renewable technologies.
We also found in Kent large solar farm project that most people are concerned with biodiversity impacts
Exploitation Route Too early to say
Sectors Energy