UKERC: Challenges in energy system decision-making


ECI lead: Dr Christian Brand

This UKERC programme explored the complexity of decisions required in developing energy systems, focused on governance and the main challenges at system level, challenges in understanding actor decision-making, and systemic interactions.

Project overview

Development of energy systems is the outcome of decisions by a wide range of actors at multiple scales, from household decisions to buy particular appliances or cars and invest in energy efficiency measures, to decisions by large multi-nationals to invest in particular power plant technologies. They also include decisions that contribute to the development, implementation and revision of government policy, and corporate decisions that determine and implement business strategies.

Future energy systems will need to operate under the constraints imposed by environmental limits, and to provide energy services reliably for critical social and technical systems. Our work explored the interplay of decision-making by actors with responsibility for the national energy system, as well distributed actors within that system and by parties in other related systems.


Relating energy practices to energy services

Our project aimed to build conceptual bridges between energy practices and energy services, creating better understanding of the quantitative implications of practices and the qualitative aspects of services. A practices approach recognises the energy user as a more active participant in energy systems than a services approach, an important consideration now that the role of the user in energy systems more widely acknowledged.

Decision-making on short timescales through demand response

This project explored the decisions required to balance the GB electricity system with increased intermittent power generation, new demands such as electric vehicles and heat pumps, and the use of ICT for controlling end use devices and the grid (smart grid). Decisions on small scale generation, investment, storage and demand response may be critical, and needed on timescales that are challenging for distributed decision-makers. Decision-makers will have to develop the capacity to make decisions on very short timescales or cede control of those decisions to actors such as energy suppliers or aggregators. Either approach raises issues of risk, trust and accountability. 

Energy implications of transport, providing new insights into the transition to electric vehicles and the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal

If you have ever wondered how transport decision-making varies across individual, organisational and policy levels, we asked the questions. How do these decisions impact on energy systems? Our project provided new evidence on current policy questions such as the impacts and energy and transport interdependencies of road transport electrification, air pollution mitigation and dwindling energy tax revenues.

The project is developed a number of system modelling tools and socio-technical approaches. The Transport Energy and Air pollution Model (TEAM) was used to investigate the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal by exploring unaccounted and future air pollutant emissions and energy use for cars in the UK.