SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Why understanding the energy system as a whole is key to Smart Power revolution

SPRU is part of a new £20m EPSRC National Centre for Energy Systems Integration. The Centre will bridge a pivotal gap in our drive towards a fully integrated, smart energy network, which is crucial to improving energy efficiency, driving down customer bills and reducing carbon emissions. The Centre brings together engineers, computing scientists, geologists, economists, mathematicians and anthropologists together with leading industry experts.

Looking for the first time at the energy system as a whole; gas, power, renewables, heating and cooling, the centre will pave the way to an integrated, flexible, smart infrastructure, empowering customers and giving them greater control of their energy use while allowing industry to meet the tough new low carbon targets set for 2050.

Professors Gordon Mackerron and Steve Sorrell from SPRU, experts in energy economics and policy issues and climate change, will work on researching the social science issues involved in energy system integration. This will cover work on commercial, regulatory and policy issues, including alternative business models and future energy scenarios

The project has major components of energy modelling and engineering demonstration, led by Newcastle, with inputs from Durham, Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt besides Sussex, and with a large input from Siemens.  With a budget of nearly half a million pounds, SPRU’s work on the project will help inform the direction of the system modelling and engineering development work.  

Announced on Wednesday 11 May by Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson, the Centre will draw on the expertise of leading academics from the universities of Newcastle, Heriot-Watt, Sussex, Edinburgh and Durham.

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said:

“From powering our businesses, to monitoring our health and connecting us with friends and family around the world, we all rely on the generation and supply of electricity. This £20 million Centre will help us with the next challenge of storing new sources of energy to meet future demand and secure the UK’s leading position in low carbon technologies.”  

Centre lead Professor Phil Taylor, Director of the Institute for Sustainability at Newcastle University, said:

“Electricity generation is undergoing fundamental change.  Many existing fossil fuel power stations will be decommissioned in the coming 15 years and new sources of generation are coming on stream.

“This new National Centre will provide us with robust information about energy usage in the real world, enabling us to develop methods to deal with the inherent risk and uncertainty so we can confidently inform government policy.

“It gives us an opportunity here in the UK to really drive forward the smart energy revolution and become international leaders in this space.  We are delighted here in Newcastle to be leading such an exciting project.”

Co-Investigator Professor Gordon Mackerron said:

“SPRU will be making a major contribution to this exciting new Centre, analysing the relationship between the social and policy worlds and engineering a more integrated, low carbon future energy system”.

Philip Nelson, EPSRC’s Chief Executive, said:

“This new EPSRC centre will help equip the UK as it adapts to the changing mix of energy production and ensure it has a resilient infrastructure that can support domestic and industrial users. The level of commitment from industry partners such as Siemens shows this is a much valued and important area for research.”

According to the National Infrastructure Commission Report released earlier this year, two-thirds of our existing power stations are expected to close by 2030 as our coal, nuclear, and oldest gas fired power stations reach the end of their lives. The Commission’s central finding is that Smart Power – principally built around three innovations, Interconnection, Storage, and Demand Flexibility – could save consumers up to £8 billion a year by 2030, help the UK meet its 2050 carbon targets, and secure the UK’s energy supply for generations.

Focussing in the early days on the UK’s energy infrastructure, the aim is to look at how the findings can be used to inform the continental grid and ultimately be applied elsewhere in the world. The centre will allow experts to test the entire energy system in real time with the aim of understanding how we can optimise the energy network and inform future government policy.