CREDS Mid-term review report

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22 January, 2021

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Read about our first two years of work in the Mid-term review report.

Executive summary

The Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS) was established in April 2018, as part of the UKRI Energy Programme, with funding of £19.5M over five years. Our mission is to make the UK a leader in understanding the changes in energy demand needed for the transition to a secure and affordable, zero- carbon energy system. This report is CREDS input into UKRI’s mid-point review of the progress of the centre.

CREDS has brought together world-leading researchers from a wide range of disciplines. By building on the work of the End Use Energy Demand (EUED) centres, which preceded CREDS we have maintained the momentum of research excellence they developed. We have already developed a strong record of peer-reviewed publications, many of which are likely to have high impact, particularly in the context of the urgency of climate mitigation. We are confident that CREDS is becoming the largest single contributor in the world to high quality research on energy demand.

CREDS is UKRI’s largest investment in energy demand research and acts as the hub for the UK research community in this field, giving us particular responsibilities for capacity building. We have paid particular attention to the needs of early career researchers (ECRs), giving them leadership roles in new projects. We also strive to be a beacon for equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) through a consistent focus and some new initiatives set out in this report.

Our research agenda covers a wide range of energy demand issues. Three themes address energy use in the main energy using sectors: buildings, transport and industry. The other three themes are cross-cutting and address key drivers identified through consultation: flexibility, digitalisation and policy. Each theme has a well-established research and engagement programme and has already produced strong and influential research outputs, which we highlight in this report. Alongside these, we have funded three challenges, identified through a consultation process. The first, on decarbonisation of heat, began in 2018 and will end in 2021. It is producing important insights for the critical challenge of total decarbonisation of heating in buildings. The other two challenges, on fuel and transport poverty and on decarbonisation of steel, began in 2020, but are already delivering interesting findings.

In the 30-month period from the start of CREDS to September 2020, CREDS staff have authored over 180 publications, of which approximately 50% are peer-reviewed journal publications. The publication rate is increasing; in the last 12 months we have produced 91 publications, including 57 journal papers.

We champion the need for research on real world problems related to energy use rather than particular disciplinary approaches. All the themes and challenges are inter-disciplinary, and we work across themes where appropriate. In particular, we began the work of CREDS with a cross-theme project to assess the effectiveness of UK Government policy on energy demand. We have three ongoing projects on different aspects of the impacts of Covid-19. We are completing work on UK low energy demand scenarios, which has informed the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) on the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget.

Our first cross-theme project had the twin goals of promoting cross-theme working and producing a high-impact report by integrating existing knowledge from the energy demand research community. It led to a report on Shifting the focus: energy demand in a net zero carbon UK that was widely publicised in the media. It defines key aspects of our research scope: we cover both energy efficiency and how the demand for energy services changes, and we address demand reduction, flexibility and switching to decarbonised fuels.

Whilst our work is focused on energy demand, we use whole-system thinking. Aspects of our work, for example on heat decarbonisation, steel decarbonisation and flexibility also address supply-side issues. We have excellent links with other UKRI major investment in whole systems energy research, notably UKERC, CESI, EnergyRev, IDRIC and the Supergen hubs.

CREDS acts as the focal point for energy demand research in the UK. We have established the Energy Demand Research Network (EDRN) and consulted the energy demand research community on its needs for support with engagement and communication. We hold regular meetings for the network. We have a webinar programme, which we are seeking to expand internationally.

We work closely with other stakeholders in the energy demand community. We have involved stakeholders in the co-creation of research, examples of which are set out in this report. We have developed a communications and engagement strategy and associated plans to ensure we identify and engage key stakeholders. This enables us to work with them through a planned programme to use the best channels at the right time.

We have an Advisory Board drawn from key UK government departments, devolved government, the CCC, energy sector and energy saving businesses, trade associations, professional institutions, non-governmental organisations, independent experts and academics. We actively seek and use their advice and involve them in our meetings and other activities.

From the outset we have given the highest priority to ensuring that our impact matches the scale and quality of our research. The centre was designed to do this, as was each theme and challenge. Our whole leadership team is committed to this goal and we have succeeded in making it part of the culture of the centre. As a significantly larger centre than any of the preceding EUED centres, we have been able to recruit knowledge exchange professionals as part of the centre’s core team. We use this expertise to ensure that our solution-focused research enables more impact for our work than has been the case historically for energy demand research. We set out the impact we have achieved in this report and it is illustrated with our 16 impact case studies.

The community of UK energy researchers does not fully reflect the diversity of the UK population and CREDS researchers are fairly typical of the wider research community. We recognise this starting point and are committed to change. We have given a high priority to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). We have a well-developed plan, which a cross-centre working group chaired by the Director is implementing. We undertake an EDI annual report on progress, drawing on a survey across the centre. We keep EDI on the agenda of Executive and Whole Centre meetings. We have helped other UKRI investments to develop their own plans. We recognise that there is more we can do, and therefore we are beginning recruitment of a part-time EDI Manager to increase our capacity to deliver our plans. We also plan to commission work to scope the need for research on energy demand and racial justice.

We have carefully considered our role in capacity building, and we have been successful in recruiting some mid-career researchers into leadership roles. We place a high importance on training of inter-disciplinary researchers, which our approach to research naturally enables. We have made support for ECRs the highest priority for use of our Flexible Fund, through a £1M call for research projects led by ECRs. This was a major exercise for CREDS, with excellent support in reviewing from the wider community and our Advisory Board. It has been a major success with eight new projects funded, led by a diverse group of potential leaders of the future. We have integrated these projects into our theme structure to ensure we provide appropriate support.

We review progress against our original aims in order to ensure that we identify areas of work that require further development. We currently have two such areas in mind: international engagement and business engagement. In both cases, our original planned activities have been detrimentally affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and therefore we are developing revised plans.

We also review the external context for our research plans in order that we react appropriately to external change. Since we drew up the CREDS research programme in late 2017, there have been two major changes with potentially very large impacts on energy demands: the UK commitment to net zero, and the social and economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Understanding the impacts of these on energy use is urgent. Subject to the recommendations of the Mid-Term Review, we therefore propose to use most of the remaining Flexible Fund to focus on these issues in the next two years.

In summary, CREDS is undertaking world-leading research and has brought together the energy demand research community to give it greater impact and develop new capacity. At the same time, the new context of a pandemic and ambitious climate goals has changed the context, and our research therefore needs to adapt. We have already shown that changes to energy demand will need to play a central role in the energy transition; without profound changes in the way energy is used, climate targets cannot be met. We are mapping those changes in more detail, as well as developing tools for key stakeholders, using insights from a wide range of disciplines across the physical and social sciences. Going forward, research will need to be strongly linked with the demonstration and deployment activities necessary over the whole period of the energy transition.

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