Decarbonisation of heat

Our decarbonisation of heat research, with its focus on a System Architecture perspective, highlights the importance of emergent system features, such as evolvability, flexibility, robustness and feasibility in energy system decarbonisation. Our research reviewed a wide-range of models and found that that no one modelling approach captures all of these features.

There is a need to focus on resilience and flexibility

Our research found that there is a need to move away from the current focus on cost of the energy system towards more consideration for resilience and flexibility of the energy system. This would allow the system to withstand shocks better, such as, those arising from the abrupt reorganisation of supply chains, trading systems and geopolitical structures, during the transition to net-zero.

Empirical and qualitative research should be undertaken alongside modelling work

In any complex and dynamic situation, there are gaps in modelling capacity and these are unavoidable. We conclude that empirical and qualitative research should form a prominent part of the energy research portfolio along-side energy modelling and this constitutes a powerful reason for adopting an overarching System Architectural perspective on energy.

Three technologies could be used to achieve heat decarbonisation in the UK

Our research found three major technologies that could be used to achieve heat decarbonisation – hydrogen, individual heat pumps, and district heating. All are technically feasible, although ‘high hydrogen’ systems appear to be the least cost-effective. This is due to the availability of more energy efficient and cost-effective alternatives, and the need for high value hydrogen in other parts of the energy system, such as industrial processes.

Our research also found that policy makers and other stakeholders’ do not have a unified or, a single perspective on the selection of technologies in the light of system goals, particularly, the goal of equity. It is therefore important that sustained and structured stakeholder engagement between the energy modelling community and policy makers/energy system stakeholders is maintained.

Model development

A novel outcome of our research is a set of clearer conceptual distinctions between flexibility, resilience and evolvability, and descriptions of how each can be operationalised using energy system models.

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