Prospects and Policies for Step Changes in the Energy System

Funded by: ESRC


January 2003 to June 2003

PSI researchers:

Background, summary and aims

Background and Aims

One of the major energy challenges facing industrial countries like the UK is how to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change by something like 60% by 2050. This challenge will not be resolved by a continuation of the current rates of incremental development of present systems. Substantial reductions in carbon, and diversification away from fossil fuels, will require 'step changes' in energy efficiency and the creation, practically from scratch, of whole new industrial sectors devoted to renewable energy sources, and/or very substantial sums spent on new nuclear generating capacity, of a very different design to the stations currently operating. The overall objective of this project was to scope out an agenda for economic and social research that would generate knowledge and insights into the conditions for achieving step change decarbonisation of the UK energy system.

Project Design

The objective was pursued through the generation of high quality documentation in the fields of energy efficiency, renewables and nuclear power, and of the energy system as a whole, which set out what needs to be achieved, and what still needs to be researched, known and understood, in each of these fields for the necessary step changes in implementation and
deployment to be attained. Four review papers were commissioned and presented at a conference in March 2003. The paper-writers were asked to identify what step change contribution to the energy system could be made in respect of their options, and what still needs to be known, in order for this contribution to be realised. The papers, and discussants' notes from the conference, were then pulled together into a final report (pdf) for ESRC, which advises on the social science research agenda which emerges. The major insights from the project are also due to be published in the journal Energy Policy.

Importance of Research

The UK is currently facing the most important sets of decisions relating to energy since the decisions of the 1950s to establish a nuclear power programme. The publication in early 2003 of the Government's Energy White Paper indicated the likely overall direction of energy policy over the coming years, but many questions about its implementation remain. This project will make an input into the major energy research programme being prepared by the ESRC in order to start to answer some of these questions.


Read about the conference in March 2003.

Read the final report (pdf)