SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Operationalising Socio-Technical Energy Transitions

Achieving the target of net zero carbon emissions for the UK economy by 2050 will require a transformation in the systems for delivering energy services, including power, heating and mobility. This implies radical and interacting changes in technologies, social institutions and political priorities. The Operationalising Socio-Technical Energy Transitions (O-STET) project focuses upon processes and decision-points for realising the transition of the UK energy system(s) towards decarbonisation. It seeks to develop approaches to integrate a greater understanding of socio-technical and political factors with existing techno-economic approaches to policy and decision-making. This research aims to incorporate understanding developed in socio-technical energy transitions (STET) research into processes for policy and industry decisions.

Methodology

Understanding of transitions to sustainability emphasises the intertwining and co-development of changes in practice within activities across techno-economic, socio-technical and political spheres. O-STET research uses a combination of novel modelling of the UK energy system and socio-technical case studies to examine key decision-points for transition. This research enables the incorporation of socio-technical and political thinking, alongside more prevalent techno-economic understanding, into decision-making within and for sustainability transitions.

The project is a research collaboration between SPRU (Sussex), the Energy Institute (UCL) and the Energy Systems Catapult. SPRU’s research develops socio-technical understanding of development and decisions for decarbonisation of UK energy systems to support novel system dynamics modelling of the energy system being developed by the Energy Institute. This research team further collaborates with the Catapult to 1) combine theoretical and research framing for the Catapult’s portfolio of whole energy systems assets and 2) test, contrast and iteratively inform the practical insights coming from the Catapult’s work with novel Socio-Technical Energy Transitions  (STET) modelling and scenario tools.

A case study of heat decarbonisation in the UK is being developed. New technologies will be needed to meet carbon emissions requirements for UK heating and several alternative pathways to technology development, implementation and use can be imagined. This case study uses and develops the concept of ‘branching points’ to connect the generation of pathways of system development to windows of decision-making and examines the shaping and framing of those decision-points. The approaches and understanding developed can support timely, effective, evidence-based policy development and decision-making for sustainability transitions.

Impact and Outreach

A key objective of the O-STET project is to take cutting edge theoretical exercises developed within STET and to incorporate them into models, scenarios and insights that can be used in critical policy and industry decision-making.  A central element of O-STET is to develop these tools alongside the Energy Systems Catapult, with the O-STET project acting as an external analytical laboratory to the Catapult. The STET models and scenarios developed are to be novel, transparent and open source and further versions of the models & scenarios will be developed as STET decision-maker tools.

Project team

University of Sussex:

UCL: