United Kingdom Energy Research Centre (UKERC)


October 2004 to October 2009

PSI researchers:

Background, summary and aims

Background and aims

Energy requires very long-term investments. UK energy policy looks forward to 2050 to set the overall context. Over that period, we face key challenges on the environment, the decline of our indigenous energy supplies and the need to update our energy infrastructure. We share these challenges with other nations and must work together in a global context.

The Government’s white paper Our energy future - creating a low carbon economy defines a long-term strategic vision for energy policy in order to address these challenges. It highlights four goals for energy policy:

  • to put the UK on a path to cut carbon dioxide emissions - the main contributor to global warming - by some 60% by about 2050 with real progress by 2020;
  • to maintain the reliability of energy supplies;
  • to promote competitive markets in the UK and beyond, helping to raise the rate of sustainable economic growth and to improve our productivity;
  • to ensure that every home is adequately and affordably heated.

Research and development has a crucial role to play in helping to pursue these goals over the long term. Investment in new energy technology, to help reduce demand and create sustainable sources of supply, will be essential. But the development and deployment of these technologies needs to take place against the background of competitive markets, suitably regulated, and in a socially acceptable manner. Energy policy therefore needs support from whole-systems, integrated research which brings together natural scientists, engineers, social scientists and economists.

The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) is a central part of this interdisciplinary effort under the £28 million cross-Research Councils programme Towards a Sustainable Energy Economy (TSEC). UKERC has two principal objectives: a) to pursue its own whole-systems research programme; and b) to bring coherence to the diverse range of UK energy research activities through the establishment of a National Energy Research Network.

The Research and Co-ordination Programme of the UKERC is organised round themes which address clearly defined problems and areas within the energy sector. Each theme depends on insights from engineering, the natural sciences, social sciences and economics. The inter-weaving of these themes is intended to create a framework for research which is genuinely interdisciplinary and captures the systemic nature of the energy problem. PSI is leading the crosscutting theme of Energy Systems and Modelling. An integrated, whole-systems view is intrinsic to this theme under which new scenarios and modelling approaches and tools will be developed, bringing together the insights of all sections of the energy research community.

Specifically, PSI’s work is focused on:

  • Original research; undertaken by PSI and the Department of Applied Economics (DAE) at Cambridge, with collaboration from Cambridge Econometrics This work effort focuses on developing a state-of-the-art UK energy model using the MARKAL modelling system, and on top-down/bottom-up integration of models. These work strands treat the energy system across four dimensions (E4) - energy, economy, environment, engineering. Particular emphasis within the models will be put on uncertainty, stochastics and economic and technological dynamics and innovation, with extensive treatment of costs, prices and risks (and their effects on economic variables, technical change and carbon reduction). The outputs and application of these models will be on a wide range of scenarios, especially comparative assessments of achieving decarbonisation through different means.
  • Mapping UK energy modelling expertise especially through the construction of a regularly updated roadmap of UK modelling research, to feed into the UKERC Research Atlas, that will make UK energy modelling expertise more accessible to potential users, and allow knowledge gaps to be more easily identified and addressed.
  • Networking and co-ordination developing the coherence and capacity of UK energy research modelling across the whole range of energy system (demand, supply, network, infrastructure) issues, especially through joint projects that develop and compare different modelling approaches in specific areas; through meetings and conferences; through introducing the UK energy modelling community to modelling approaches from other fields; and through developing a modelling assessment and evaluation capacity that will enable model outcomes and results to be more easily understood.

Importance of Research

The research will make an important contribution to understanding and quantifying the evolution of the UK energy system, and analyzing the impacts of external drivers and public policies that seek to shape this development of UK energy supply and use. As an integral part of UKERC, energy systems modelling will provide a stimulating environment to deliver rigorous, multi-disciplinary research that will allow sustainable energy policy for the UK to be formed in a scientific manner, while engaging with stakeholders and the wider public.