The provision of energy services, such as comfort and illumination, relies on a complex energy system. This includes the technologies required to extract energy from different (renewable and non-renewable) resources, to transport that energy to where it is needed, and to convert into different forms and finally the energy services themselves. These technologies are highly dependent on the natural resources themselves, their location and availability, on the social systems which invest, manage and use the energy, and on the institutional and policy frameworks within which all these operate. The combination constitutes the whole energy system.
Many energy problems require detailed examination of particular aspects of the system, but this is not sufficient. There are interactions between parts of the system. The need for energy supply depends on the scale and timing of demand; energy infrastructure depends on the location of different activities; the technical and social systems depend on each other. So any energy system is more than the sum of its parts and requires ‘systems analysis’.
The need to move away from highly polluting and unsustainable energy supplies therefore implies not just a change from one fuel to another, but a transition in which all aspects of the energy system might well change. This theme of our research looks at the interactions and systemic changes implied by a shift to sustainability. In particular it considers the changes in decisions (at all scales) that may be required and the implications for the governance of energy.