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Assessing climate-sensitive energy use to 2050 under current climate (RCP8.5) trajectory

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  • Full or part time
    Prof J Barrett
    Prof P Taylor
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

In 2015 we have reached a 1’C rise in average global temperatures relative to pre-industrial levels, half-way to the IPCC’s 2’C dangerous climate change threshold. The current greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration pathway is aligned most closely to Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5, suggesting an average global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels of 1.5’C by 2030 and 2.2’C by 2050. This trajectory may have a significant impact on climate-sensitive energy use, which is already increasing: for example air-conditioning use as a proportion of US residential electricity use has risen from 5% (1970) to 20% (2010).

The basis for the PhD is the supposition that 1. Climate-sensitive energy use is a significant and growing part of global energy use, and 2. Future energy forecasts do not fully account for the future impacts of energy use from the current climate trajectory. Projections of energy use are typically based on technology driven models which model future energy use based on historical energy-service metrics, such as GJ/tes (industry), GJ/m2 (residential) and GJ/km (transport). This type of bottom-up modelling does not account fully for changes required due to RCP 8.5 current GHG concentrations trajectory. In addition, sectoral adaption responses to climate change may conflict with mitigation needs: one example is climate-smart agriculture - which seeks to sustainably increase production, build resilient agricultural systems, and reduce agricultural GHG emissions – but evidence in support of current strategies, and of the subsequent impacts on agricultural energy use, is weak.

The PhD
The first part of the PhD will be to quantify current climate-sensitive energy use, as a proportion of global primary and final energy use. This will require the identification and quantification of the climate-sensitive energy use areas, such as air-conditioning and low temperature heat across the different economic sectors: agriculture, industry, services, household, and transport. It will also require a review of the detailed methodology and energy use projections for these climate-sensitive energy uses within these sectors across the main available energy forecasts. These are expected to include the International Energy Agency (IEA) and US Energy Information Agency (EIA).

The second part of the PhD will assemble information on the current RCP 8.5 pathway and its impacts on climate-sensitive energy use. This will include collating and reviewing information and data relating to numerous areas, such as:

· Projections of relevant climate data including heating degree days (HDD) and cooling degree days (CDD), and linking this to the effects on low temperature heating and cooling use. Though use of HDD and CDD is well established - it’s a crude approach (which certainly doesn’t take account of behavioural factors) and so a review of alternative metrics may be possible.

· Impacts on energy use of sectoral responses to climate change (e.g. climate-smart agriculture)

· Behavioural aspects: examining how behavior affects usage of climate-sensitive energy. One example might be the commercial buildings sector, where commercial HVAC systems may be set to heat to 21C but cool to 18C, which increase overall energy consumption against their intended baseline. Another example might be residential: in hotter summers what is the behavioral response - do people shower more often?

· Other factors including technological, demographics, population and affluence, since these also play key roles in the take-up of climate sensitive energy use.

The third part of the PhD will collate analyse global climate-sensitive energy use from 2010 to 2050, identifying its share of total energy use, and sectoral contributions. The specific impacts of RCP 8.5 vs a low GHG concentrations trajectory (RCP 2.6) is expected to be identified, as well as any under-reporting of energy use from this sector in current energy forecasts. Finally, assessments will be made for policy impacts based on the outputs of the modelling process.

The outcomes of this PhD are expected to be published in high-ranking journals and contribute directly to ongoing national and international policy debates. The supervisors have a strong track record of publishing in top journals with many of their PhD students publishing at least two high quality journal articles during their PhD.

The PhD candidate would join a sizeable research team that attracts considerable funds through the RCUK Energy Programme. Supporting this PhD would recognize an area of established expertise within the University.

Entry requirements/necessary background for students:
BSc or MSc in, or have equivalent experience in a relevant discipline such as energy modelling, climate science, ecological economics. Strong quantitative skills.

How good is research at University of Leeds in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 79.20

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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