Current projects

Our projects

These projects range from supporting technological and community-led innovations, creating new modelling tools and frameworks to implement the low-carbon transition, projects ensuring that these necessary transitions are socially just.

National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI)

CESI

A unique partnership of five universities and strategic partner Siemens, CESI aims to improve on current modelling and simulation techniques, which cannot provide sufficiently accurate, detailed or integrated representations of real energy systems.  

CESI addresses these failures to provide robust, long term visions, and reduces risks associated with a fully integrated future energy system for the UK. CESI aims to develop a modular 'plug-n-play' environment in which interlinked components of the energy system are co-simulated and optimised in detail.  Part of this process, led from SPRU, considers the wider social implications of visualising the future in formalised ways, including issues of inclusion and exclusion. 

Research themes: Energy supply technologies; Energy innovation and transitions 

Carbon Intensive Regions in Transition - Unravelling the Challenges of Structural Change (CINTRAN)

Decarbonisation of the power sector and fossil-fuel dependent industries is a critical part of our low carbon future. These industries are not spread evenly across the EU but concentrated in a number of carbon-intensive regions. Decarbonisation will lead to deep structural changes with implications for regional economies and labour markets, as well as for the regions’ social, political, cultural and demographic composition. If not managed well, these structural changes may cause serious economic impacts, societal upheaval, aggravated social inequalities and hardship. 

CINTRAN is helping improve understanding of the patterns and dynamics of structural change in response to decarbonisation at the regional level, the parameters which determine the pace of transformation, and the capacity of regional actors to adapt and pro-actively create alternative structures.  

Research themes: Energy justice; Energy innovation and transitions 

Centre for Research Into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS)

CREDS large

CREDS aims to understand the changes in energy demand needed for the transition to a secure and affordable low carbon energy system. 

CREDS’ Digital Society work, led by SPRU, focuses on researching the effects that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have on energy consumption and carbon emissions. 

To address this, CREDS is: 

  • Investigating the impact of ICTs on economy-wide energy consumption: projects in this area look at the evidence on the impact of ICTs on energy consumption. 

  • Exploring the potential for ICTs to deliver end-use services with much lower energy use: new business models offering multiple opportunities to entrepreneurs and challenging established forms of economic organisation (e.g. taxi services, electricity markets).  

  • Investigating how ICT diffusion influences energy-related user practices: smart meters, automated vehicles, smart homes, and teleworking.  

Research themes: Energy demand and behaviour; Smart infrastructure 

Governance of Discontinuity in Technological Systems (DISCGO) 

DISCGO is investigating how technology governance can address the crucial task of disengaging from well-established socio-technical systems, using a variety of case studies, with SPRU’s research focusing on the case of nuclear energy. 

This involves detailed scrutiny of how governance can deliberately resist and counter the interests of powerful incumbent actors to consolidate their favoured pathways. 

The aim is to instead help build pathways that better serve the interests of less powerful and more marginal groups. This task of destabilising dominant pathways relates closely to research underway in the STEPS Centre, highlighting the crucial role played by power in establishing sociotechnical dominance. 

This is a collaborative project involving Andy Stirling, co-director of the STEPS Centre, at SPRU, Pierre-Benoit Joly at INRA in Paris, Peter Stegmaier at TSG in Dortmund and led by Stefan Kuhlmann in Twente. 

Research themes: Energy justice; Energy supply technologies; Energy innovation and transitions 

Governing sustainable energy-mobility transitions: multi-level policy mixes, transformative capacities and low-carbon innovations (EMPOCI)

EMPOCI is investigating how the global transition to low carbon energy and mobility systems can be accelerated on a regional and national level. The project aims to provide a comprehensive assessment of the governance of such interconnected and politically contested multi-sectoral deep transition processes - with a dedicated focus on broad policy mix thinking.  

The project is developing an interdisciplinary framework which foregrounds the causal interplay between actors, policy mixes and low-carbon innovations in energy-mobility transitions. The framework bridges innovation/transition studies and policy studies to better capture the political and co-evolutionary nature of sustainability transitions, paying greater attention to the role of coalitions, policy feedbacks and contexts. 

Researchers will analyse the innovation-led decarbonisation of the increasingly interconnected electricity-mobility-ICT systems in two European countries (UK, Germany), and two countries outside of Europe (China, USA).  

Research themes: Energy innovation and transitions 

Fracking, Framing and  Effective Participation

Fracking, Framing and Effective Participation analyses the opinions held by different groups on the contested issue of fracking and the challenges these opinions represent for shale gas development in the UK.  

The project will investigate shale gas’s viability in a low-carbon future, the governance of shale development, and the varying ideas about the ways and extent to which local community views are accommodated in decision-making. The study will assess the scope for public opinion to influence policy and decision-making on shale site development in the UK, and whether this is likely to reduce or amplify controversy. 

Research themes: Energy supply technologies 

Fuel and Transport Poverty in the UK’s Energy Transition (FAIR)

CREDS large

FAIR is investigating the causes of and links between fuel and transport poverty in the UK, exploring ways to ensure the UK’s shift to a low-carbon society does not leave anyone behind. This study will ensure that, as the UK undergoes decarbonisation by 2050, innovations such as vehicle electrification and ‘smart’ technologies do not create new injustices. 

Researchers will be running policy workshops and developing policy models to provide recommendations on how the UK’s net zero objectives can be achieved while also addressing poverty, inequality and exclusion. 

FAIR is a three-year project led by Dr Mari Martiskainen as part of the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS). 

Research Themes: Energy justice 

Going Dutch?

Decarbonising heat remains a key energy policy and technology challenge in the UK and indeed globally. Residential heat forms the largest single source of emissions from heat demand in the UK. The challenge of decarbonising residential heat is also dominated by a high dependence on natural gas; in 2017, the share of gas in residential space heating demand was 75%. The Netherlands is the only other country in Europe with an even greater dependence on natural gas for heating. The UK and NL are therefore both embarking on a transition away from natural gas from a similar starting point. They both have a strong climate policy framework and there are common expectations in both countries that lower heat demand, more district heat networks and a higher proportion of heat from renewable sources will form elements of the solution.

However, following earthquakes in the Gröningen region linked to gas extraction in January 2018, the Dutch government moved decisively to ‘get rid of gas’ (van loos gas) by 2030, including for residential heating. This has provided major momentum to heat decarbonisation policy in NL, which is currently moving ahead more quickly than that in the UK. The pace of change in the Netherlands offers an opportunity for the UK to learn from Dutch successes and challenges. This includes current decisions about networks, technologies and energy vectors, and governance frameworks.

Research themes: Energy Innovation & Transitions 

Governance of Sociotechnical Transformations (GoST)

GoST is investigating historical and prospective transformations in three key areas: energy transformation and the ‘nuclear age’; transformation of agriculture and the ‘green revolution’; transformation of the urban digital infrastructure and ‘smart cities.’  

The project is examining past and prospective transformation across these three areas in Germany, India, Kenya, UK and US. 

This research will improve understanding of the multi-dimensional and transformative potential of imagined futures – an insufficiently recognised area in scientific literature and policy making. The project will tailor impact towards improving economic and welfare outcomes for people in Kenya and India. 

Research themes: Energy Innovation & Transitions 

The Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC)Image of the IDRIC logo

The UK Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge (IDC) of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) aims to establish the world’s first net-zero carbon industrial cluster by 2040 and four low-carbon clusters by 2030. 

The Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC) has been formed to support this challenge through funding a multidisciplinary research and innovation centre to accelerate decarbonisation of industrial clusters. The Centre includes research organisations, industry, civil society organisations and policy actors.

The University of Sussex leads three key research topics: smart policy and governance for industrial decarbonisation (Benjamin Sovacool); just transitions for industrial decarbonisation in the UK (Benjamin Sovacool); and the politics of industrial decarbonisation policy (Matthew Lookwood). IDRIC is due to run until 2024.

The research uses a systems approach integrating engineering, environmental and technical solutions with economic, behavioural, policy aspects and including complex interactions. The objectives are to:

  • accelerate challenge-led research through transformative innovation;
  • develop leadership by nurturing talent, building capacity and mapping skills;
  • co-create and share knowledge by stimulating cross-learning, active networks and outreach;
  • support policy and mission advocacy by providing evidence to policy makers and the public.

The overarching goal of the IDRIC is to deliver long-lasting economic growth and societal benefits, and to build the foundations for the new industrial clusters of tomorrow.

Research themes: Energy justice, Energy innovation and transitions. 

Innovation Pathways, Strategies and Policies for the Low-Carbon Transition in Europe (INNOPATHS)

INNOPATHS

INNOPATHS works with stakeholders from government, academic and civil society, to generate new low-carbon pathways for the European Union.  

The project is mapping courses of action for power, industry, ICT, buildings, transport and agriculture, creating tools to inform decision-making to meet the decarbonisation goals set in the Paris Agreement. 

Through four online interactive tools, INNOPATHS allows stakeholders to explore potential scenarios and strategise accordingly: 

  • A Technology Matrix. Presents historic and projected characteristics, and associated uncertainty, of key low-carbon technologies. 

  • A Policy Assessment Framework. Presents evidence-based characteristics of policy instruments and mixes to encourage the low-carbon transition. 

  • A Low-Carbon Pathways Platform. Allows detailed examination of low-carbon pathways produced by INNOPATHS. 

  • An Interactive Decarbonisation Simulator. Allows co-designers to estimate and compare the roles for different decarbonisation strategies. 

Research themes: Energy justice, Energy innovation and transitions. 

Toward Just, Ethical and Sustainable Arctic Economies, Environments and Societies (JUST NORTH)

Previous Arctic development has suffered through inequitable practices, leaving scars from the impacts of social, economic and environmental inequality. JUSTNORTH is evaluating the viability of Arctic economic activities, with the goal of enhancing the EU’s governance capacity to mitigate this problem.  

The research aims to merge justice theories with sustainable development goals to enable EU policy coherence toward just transitions. The project will offer policy, legal and regulatory pathway recommendations, by developing frameworks via the reconciliation of the various ethics and value systems present in the Arctic.  

JUSTNORTH is bringing insights from indigenous, local, business, state and NGO perspectives of the social, economic and environmental complexities of the Arctic into the realm of policymaking for just sustainable development. 

Research themes: Energy justice 

LAND use based MitigAtion for Resilient Climate pathways (LANDMARC)

Project logo for LandmarcRoughly 30% of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement include Land-based Mitigation Technologies (LMTs) and practices. LANDMARC aims to better understand the impacts of LMTs mitigation potential as net sinks for GHGs and their associated co-benefits by applying a unique mixed-methods approach that includes: 

  • A combination of remote sensing (satellite-based) and in-situ monitoring tools 

  • A set of models combining climate, land use, carbon cycle, ecosystem, and socio-economic systems 

  • Iterative and continuous stakeholder engagement to better understand LMT management practices and barriers to scaling 9 

  • A comprehensive assessment of quantifiable and non-quantifiable environmental, and socio- economic risks, trade-offs and co-benefits. 

LANDMARC will develop new assessment methodologies and tools. Their work will help governments identify suitable LMTs for their countries and quantify their impact. 

Research themes: Energy justice; Energy demand and behaviour 

This project is working with local authorities and communities to find new ways of renovating and retrofitting homes for a low-carbon future. 

In the past these activities have relied mainly on government grants, which work, but are often too small on their own to reach our national climate change commitments. Continued and expanded government support is needed, but more bottom-up solutions are needed: solutions which work for individual neighbourhoods, towns and cities, solutions which leverage the billions of pounds people already spend as part of their aspirations for a ‘better home’. 

Research themes: Energy justice; Energy demand and behaviour 

ROLES is identifying how European city-regions can accelerate decarbonisation through digitalisation of energy infrastructure, focusing on pathways that also create societal benefits (such as reducing fuel and transport poverty). The project is working in the UK, Italy and Norway, with case studies in all three countries. 

ROLES will develop an analytic framework for creating pathways to digitalise energy systems, to achieve deep decarbonisation. It will prioritise co-creation of these pathways with relevant stakeholders. 

The analytical framework the project produces will be applicable to any mid-sized European city-region. Results will be shared with a wide range of stakeholders, from civic leaders to bodies representing marginalised groups. 

Research themes: Energy justice; Smart infrastructure; Energy supply technologies 

Solar-Biomass Reversible Energy System for Covering a Large Share of Energy Needs in Buildings (SolBio-Rev)

Solbiorev

SolBio-Rev is working to reduce the primary energy consumption of the building sector across the EU. The project’s aim is to develop a configuration that uses a combination of promising renewable energy technologies – solar, ambient and bioenergy – and an innovative heat pump-based configuration, for heating, cooling and electricity, that could reduce dependency on fossil fuels and lower CO2 emissions, also aiding EU energy security. 

SPRU is leading the social science research component, performing qualitative research into the perceptions and acceptance of existing renewable energy systems, as well as the future of the SolBio-Rev concept.  

SolBio-Rev could result in a reduction of the dependence on fossil fuels by up to 70%. On top of this, the technologies developed will have a lifetime expectancy of at least 20 years, and potentially up to 40 years, creating lasting effects. 

Research themes: Energy demand and behaviour; Energy innovation and transitions 

Social Innovation in Energy Transitions (SONNET)

SONNET

SONNET is investigating how social innovation can bring about a more sustainable energy system in Europe. The project focuses on urban areas as major hubs for social innovations and generates practical recommendations for harnessing the potential of social innovation.  

SONNET is being delivered by a consortium of six research institutes and six city partners, using techniques like ‘City Labs’, case studies, citizen surveys and more, to figure out how social innovations can be supported to accelerate the transition to a sustainable energy system. 

By bringing together designated academic and local government partners, expertise of all kinds will come together to co-create knowledge and solutions. 

Research themes: Energy innovation and transitions 

SWS-HEATING

SWS

SWS-HEATING aims to develop an innovative seasonal thermal energy storage (STES) unit. Using novel storage material and creative configuration, this allows storage and transfer of solar energy harvested during summer, covering a large proportion of domestic heating demand. 

The SWS-heating system is based on a multi-modular sorption STES unit, designed to drastically decrease storage volume with negligible thermal losses. A building prototype will be commissioned including the SWS-heating system, which will be tested and validated in Germany and Sweden. The goal of this next generation solar heating technology is to reach and overcome a solar fraction of 60% in central/north Europe, reaching 80% in the sunnier south of Europe, with a compact and high-performing STES system at low cost. 

Research themes: Energy innovation and transitions 

Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS)

STEPS Centre logo

The ESRC STEPS Centre carries out interdisciplinary global research that unites development studies with science and technology studies. The centre’s mission is to highlight, reveal and contribute to just and democratic pathways to sustainability that include the needs, knowledge and perspectives of poor and marginalised people. 

STEPS’ previous annual themes have included Transformations, Uncertainty and NaturesIn its 2021 themeMethodsSTEPS is asking:  What methodological assemblages, frameworks, tools and associated ways of being could help open up to more perspectives and participation in research, and allow us to pursue more plural pathways to sustainability? 

STEPS focuses on four annual themes. 

2018: TRANSFORMATIONS 

What does it take to make sustainability transformations emancipatory (caring), rather than repressive (controlling)? 

2019: UNCERTAINTY 

What kinds of uncertainty are there, why do they matter for sustainability, and what ideas, approaches and methods can help us to respond to them? 

2020: NATURES 

How can colonial forms of knowledge, technology and power be challenged, and what might it mean to decolonize the study of environmental change? What do alternatives look like, and how can we explore, nurture, imagine and live the relationships we might want for the future? 

2021: METHODS 

Research themes: Energy justice; Energy supply technologies; Energy innovation and transitions