Transition pathways for a low carbon energy system in the UK: assessing the compatibility of large-scale and small-scale options

Dr Tim Foxon, University of Leeds 

This paper will describe initial work on transition pathways for a low carbon energy system in the UK, being pursued in a major new research project. The project is a collaboration between leading UK engineers, social scientists and policy analysts, supported by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the energy company E.ON UK. The project aims to (a) to learn from past transitions to help explore future transitions and what might enable or avoid them; (b) to design and evaluate transition pathways towards alternative socio-technical energy systems and infrastructures for a low carbon future; and (c) to understand and where appropriate model the changing roles, influences and opportunities of large and small ‘actors’ in the dynamics of transitions. The paper will describe the development of outline transition pathways and the approach to assessing these through electricity network modelling and participatory interviews with stakeholders and end-users. Pathways being investigated include (1) those focussing on large-scale centralised low-carbon supply-side options, with greater roles for any or all of renewables, nuclear and fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage; and (2) those with greater take-up of demand-side options, involving both active demand side management through load shifting and reduction as well as electricity generation at point of use. The elucidation of these pathways will include the evolution of the physical and institutional infrastructure changes, and the roles of actors, both large, e.g. multinational energy supply and distribution companies, national governments, major investors, and small, e.g. households, innovators and entrepreneurs. The paper will focus on how these pathways are being used to assess the extent to which the large-scale and small-scale pathways are compatible, or whether choices need to be made by UK energy policymakers and stakeholders as to which pathway is preferable.

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