Five years of interdisciplinary and collaborative research across 24 academic institutions culminated in an end-of-project celebration last month, to highlight what CREDS has achieved so far.
Five years of interdisciplinary and collaborative research across 24 academic institutions culminated in an end-of-project celebration last month, to highlight what the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS) has achieved so far. It showcased the overall research findings and a selection of impact case studies presented by researchers and people who have used the results. They illustrate how CREDS has changed the conversation about energy use by working with policymakers, businesses and supporting early career researchers.
Around 150 people with interests in the energy demand sector took part in a hybrid event with in-person and online presentations of some of the team’s most important findings, at an event hosted at the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms in central London on 23 May.
Reducing energy demand is critical to achieving an energy transition to zero carbon – and it can be done.”
CREDS is a UKRI-funded hub for research on demand reduction, flexible demand and use of decarbonised energy, with a budget of £19.5 million over five years from April 2018 until December 2023. The Centre works with researchers, businesses and policy makers to support the transition to a zero-carbon society.
After a brief introduction by Advisory Board Chair, Dr Joanne Wade, CREDS Director Professor Nick Eyre kicked off event proceedings with a clear message: reducing energy demand is critical to achieving an energy transition to zero carbon – and it can be done.
Energy demand reduction across buildings, transport and industry will be one of the three main ways in which we achieve zero-carbon, along with electrification and the use of renewable energy sources.
Of these, the potential for reducing our energy demand is huge (reductions of more than 50% are possible). This will lead to many additional benefits including improved health, comfort, affordability, energy security and economic growth. To achieve reduced energy demand at this scale, wide-ranging social and technological change will be needed, which has to be led by public policy.
At the moment, Nick told the room, policy is too focused on supply-side solutions. Instead, we need comprehensive demand-side policy with regulation to enforce it and local decision-making to implement it.
Location-based carbon footprint data
Dr Malcolm Morgan, from the University of Leeds described the first impact case study. He gave an overview of the Place-Based Carbon Calculator, a visual and interactive tool that compares the carbon footprint of every Lower Super Output Area (LSOA) in England. LSOAs are statistical neighbourhoods of 1,500-3,000 people, with each neighbourhood graded A+ to F- based on their carbon consumption compared to the country’s average. The tool maps data such as the frequency of public transport, the proximity of local facilities, domestic EPC ratings and gas and electricity consumption.
The tool is free to use, open-source and open-data, which means other researchers can use it for their own projects. However, it is primarily aimed at Local Authorities, enabling them to benchmark against other areas, monitor the effectiveness of their policies and engage with the public. Future iterations of the tool will include increased accuracy and detail, and the ability to track carbon emissions over time.
Senior Transport Planner Matthew Stevens joined the event by video link to show how the team at Pell Frischmann, an engineering consultancy, used the Place-Based Carbon Calculator to support Birmingham City Council with their Local Plan for 2040. The data informed decision-making on targeting improvements to the public transport network, as well as transit-oriented development, residential densification and improved diversity in local services.
Valentine Quinio, a Senior Analyst at the Centre for Cities, provided a second example of the real-world applications of the Place-Based Carbon Calculator. As part of a work programme in the lead-up to COP26, Centre for Cities investigated the role cities play in the net-zero agenda. Their team compared different cities and explored the relationship between carbon emissions, energy consumption and wealth, as well as the benefits of density on carbon footprints. This led to a research piece, Measuring up: Comparing public transport in the UK and Europe’s biggest cities, which was used in policy recommendations in the Levelling Up Campaign.
Equity, diversity and inclusion
Next up was Knowledge Exchange Manager Dr Sarah Higginson, who highlighted how integral Equality/Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) has been to the work carried out by CREDS. This work has influenced which speakers and venues are booked for events and how things are communicated on the CREDS website. Our focus on EDI has now spread to at least nine other research centres, and many of those involved with CREDS have incorporated EDI ambitions into their work at their home institutions.
In addition, two CREDS case studies have focused on EDI, including one relating to a £1million pot of flexible CREDS funding given to support early career researchers (ECRs) to lead energy demand projects. This funding model, alongside CREDS’ specific criteria for ECRs, offered a unique way of financially supporting researchers at the start or middle of their careers, at a time when they might otherwise struggle to either stay or progress in academia. Sarah mentioned that an evaluation of the call showed that this funding enabled participants to launch their own research area, had a clear impact on their careers and also helped other ECRs and researchers who were employed by this money.
Dr Faye Wade is a Chancellor’s Fellow from the University of Edinburgh and was one of the ECRs that received funding to lead a project. She spoke of her experience of being an early career researcher, and how the Flexible Fund enabled her to study how retrofitting supply chains are structured. She also shared some of the ups and downs of her personal journey and the lessons learned as a result, such as the value of listening to more experienced colleagues and ensuring that proposals are appropriate and relevant to the type of funding being applied for.
Retrofitting UK homes
Dr Tina Fawcett, an Associate Professor at the University of Oxford, continued with the theme of retrofit. She highlighted that there are regular, missed ‘trigger points’ for the repair, maintenance and improvement market to retrofit buildings for improved energy efficiency, such as when properties undergo renovation or change ownership. These findings came from a joint report written in collaboration with the Federation of Master Builders.
Chief Executive Brian Berry spoke on behalf of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), and shared some further findings from the joint report. He argued that energy retrofits should be incorporated into every appropriate project. Building regulations need to mandate more energy efficient development, only licensed construction firms should be eligible to operate in the marketplace in order to improve construction quality and consumer confidence, and that a long term policy approach is needed in the form of a National Retrofit Strategy which could be overseen by a Retrofit Delivery Agency/Task Force to deliver the volume of work required.
Postive low energy futures
Professor John Barrett OBE is the Chair in Energy and Climate Policy at the Sustainability Research Institute based at the University of Leeds. He introduced the project Positive Low Energy Futures (PLEF) which modelled the UK’s future energy demand in response to four possible levels of action: ignore (5% reduction), steer (31% reduction), shift (41% reduction) or transform (52% reduction). To achieve net zero, reductions in energy demand would be required in every single sector and achieved though both energy efficiency and less energy-intensive practices. The more we are able to reduce demand the smaller the scale of change we will require from our energy systems. Following the launch of the project in October 2021, the Government Office for Science (GO-Science) contacted John’s team, resulting in a collaboration that used the PLEF methodology to do further modelling work for the Government.
Jack Snape, Head of Foresight Projects at GO Science, described the work that they had done in collaboration with John’s team. He touched upon the implications of future societal change on achieving net zero, including scenarios where energy demand increases, as well as those in which it reduces. He highlighted that costs would be lower – and much less land is required – if energy demand is reduced. In addition, there would be health co-benefits, as well as less reliance on carbon removal technologies. However, public support for significant societal change will require supportive policies and the availability of sufficient infrastructure in order for people to make sustainable changes. There are a number of projects that will carry out further research in this area next year.
After a few closing remarks from Nick Eyre – and a surprise gift presentation to him by CREDS Centre Manager Clare Downing, in recognition of his work leading the project – attendees mixed and mingled to discuss what they’d heard and make new connections.
The event’s speakers and presentations represented just a small fraction of what CREDS has achieved. The team of over 170 people have created over 460 publications and held over 900 engagement activities to date, which means that an event could only showcase a small percentage of them. Nevertheless, all of the blogs, reports, briefings and papers are available here on our website: go to Our Work in the main navigation menu to get started.
Banner photo credit: Sarah Plater Photography