Jon Saltmarsh from our Advisory Board highlights his main takeaways from the CREDS in Celebration showcase.
As a member of the Centre of Research on Energy Demand Solutions’ (CREDS) advisory board, I have had the privilege of attending many of the networking and dissemination events that help ensure the CREDS programme is much more than the sum of its parts. I was therefore delighted to join the CREDS Celebration held in London on 23 May 2023 and agreed to produce a blog on the event.
In writing this blog, however, I have seen firsthand the challenge the organisers must have faced in distilling the learning from over 140 academics, 24 organisations and nearly 400 publications into a two-hour event. Trying to summarise this ground-breaking academic research in 700 words is well beyond me. So, I will start by admitting defeat and encouraging you to explore the full range of work undertaken by CREDS.
I have been an extensive user of academic research in my previous roles in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and in my current role in Energy Systems Catapult. So, based on this experience, I thought I’d reflect on five points made during the event that chimed strongly for me:
- CREDS is about “changing the conversation around energy use”. For this to be a national conversation, researchers need to change the way they communicate with others outside academia. The style of writing in an academic paper is hard to digest for those without a PhD, and non-academics don’t have the time to draw out the nuggets of gold. CREDS has strived to make the key learning accessible with briefing papers and reports for non-academic audiences. The Celebration Event managed to demonstrate how the learning from large research projects could be summarised and presented clearly in only an eight-minute slot.
- The importance of “backing up high level messages with robust numbers”. This is still a work in progress as the team synthesises CREDS learning into thematic summary areas. But I was struck by the way CREDS researchers have been able to turn the disaster of Covid into an opportunity to understand and quantify some of the changes in energy demand that could be achieved by massive changes in the way society travels, works and interacts.
- While we’re talking numbers I was taken by two figures in different presentations. Every year “we miss around £11 billion of opportunities to initiate building retrofit work” because retrofit is not incorporated into the way we go about building repair, maintenance and improvement. I fear that current policies are not serving us well in this regard, but hopefully the CREDS work on trigger points will suggest new policy options to be pursued.
- The second figure was that it is possible to “reduce our energy demand by 52% while improving health, local environments and work practices, and maintaining a high quality of life”. The research suggests that this reduction in demand would mean the UK would no longer have to rely on unproven technologies, such as carbon dioxide removal, to meet our net zero targets. Behaviour change is fundamental to realising this opportunity, but this an area where politicians have been unwilling to engage with their electorate. Too many MPs portray demand reduction as a ‘hairshirt agenda’ whereas the research shows that quality of life can still be maintained.
- Finally, I was looking for examples of how CREDS is already having an impact in the wider community. As a keen collector of OctoPoints from the demand reduction trials last winter, I was delighted to learn CREDS had played an influential role in National Grid ESO’s development of the Demand Flexibility Service trials. Flexible demand remains one of the key enablers of the transition to a net zero energy system and again the research centre has provided transformational evidence to support the development of thinking and solutions in this area.
I look forward to continuing to follow CREDS as the final synthesis reports are produced in the coming months and hope that its successor programme manages to achieve similar levels of impact and new insights.
Banner photo credit: Steph Ferguson