The challenge of meeting ambitious carbon reduction targets whilst ensuring secure, affordable and widespread supplies of energy will require significant innovation in technology, economics and policy, and socio-technical domains. Interventions in each of these domains do not exist or act in isolation. Instead, the effects of these can be both pervasive and in some cases strongly interacting.
Innovation is needed:
- Technology: in research, development, demonstration and commercialisation of new technologies, products and processes
- Economics and policy: in economic incentives, regulatory frameworks and policy drivers
- Socio-technical: in integrating technological changes with wider social and behavioural changes
For example, a policy decision to provide strong incentives to promote the use of plug-in electric vehicles would have profound implications in terms of:
- Technology: driving innovation to (a) increase vehicle range (not just batteries, but other technologies such as composites for weight reduction), (b) generate clean(er) electric power and (c) to deliver this power effectively to the vehicle
- Economics and policy: ranging from how to deliver the infrastructure needed for an adequate recharging provision to what to do about the transport of manufactured goods by road?
- Socio-technical: adapting to vehicles of limited range (at least in the near term) would have a significant impact on where we live, how we work and leisure activities
The effects of an intervention in any one of these three areas, would be felt within the others:
- New policy incentives can drive technological and socio-technical changes
- Technological advances can enable cleaner or cheaper energy supply
- Socio-technical changes can enable wider provision of heating, lighting, power or transport services with lower primary energy use. For example, increases in range (a technological enhancement) might allow:
- use of the vehicle in a fashion more akin to an internal combustion engine car (a socio-technical impact)
- recharging to occur mostly at night, thus reducing the need for additional peak power as opposed to baseline power (an economic impact for the power industry and also a technological impact in terms of the balance of power generation technologies)
The challenge that the Centre for Integrated Energy Research seeks to address is to how best to respond to the interconnections between technology, economics/policy and socio-technical factors in energy sustainability.