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Managing complexity and uncertainty in the transition to net-zero energy systems

Project Description

In June 2019, the UK committed to a legally-binding target to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. This provides a hugely challenging, yet necessary goal to radically and rapidly decarbonise the UK’s energy systems. This challenge will be complex (warranting deep changes across different energy networks, organisations, and households) and will require a comprehensive understanding of the uncertainties involved (in understanding lock-in to certain pathways, low-regret options and decision points). In addition, we must ensure that the transition is fair and equitable to all – a just transition is vital.

In light of these challenges, new approaches are needed to better integrate data, models and forms of knowledge across domains to understand energy system transitions, and these approaches must also be robust to uncertainty and complexity in assessing long-term pathways. This research will make a significant contribution to developing these methods and approaches through a case study in Leeds on energy system transformation in an urban area. The environment within which decisions are made will be characterised using a complex adaptive systems framework to represent the interactions of technologies, networks, actors and co-evolution with other sub-systems, paying particular attention to actors and assets relevant to mitigation, adaptation and justice. Deliberative workshops will be held with key stakeholders identified from this activity, and the public, to co-create a vision of a just net-zero transition. Methods will be developed to integrate knowledge critical to this future, across domains including modelling of quantitative and qualitative data, as well as participatory processes. Approaches to support decision making under deep uncertainty will be developed to enable more systemic decision making. It is likely that the results will be relevant to both local and central governments, as well as other stakeholders in the energy sector.

Based in the Sustainability Research Institute, this will be an interdisciplinary project bringing together theories from social science and engineering science disciplines. It will draw on two different EPSRC-funded 5-year research programmes, led by Dr Bale (Co-creating visions and pathways for integrated urban heat systems) and Dr Roelich (Adaptive Decision Making for Urban Energy Transformation), and the student will work closely with both research teams.

Funding Notes

This 3.5 years EPSRC DTP award will provide tuition fees (£4,500 for 2019/20), tax-free stipend at the UK research council rate (£15,009 for 2019/20), and a research training and support grant of around £5,000.

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