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Flexibility: past, present and future

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April 2018 to March 2021

PI: Jacopo Torriti

Flexibility: past, present and future (within CREDS)

Funded by: EPSRC


Context and background

Looking to the future, there are major uncertainties about how social and institutional rhythms might fit with decarbonised and renewable energy systems (Labanca 2017). Energy systems (gas, oil, electricity and related demands) have always had a degree of flexibility in how demand meets supply and vice versa.


This project develops methods of conceptualising and evaluating actual and potential flexibility within and between energy systems over time and at different scales.

Questions and methods

How has flexibility been managed in the past? Historians of infrastructures and energy will synthesise evidence of flexibility gaps and crises in transport, gas and electricity systems and draw lessons for the future (8 commissioned studies/literature reviews/industry feedback). How flexible is the energy system today? We will develop methods of mapping energy-system flexibility at national and city scale.

We will use data on pinch points, and ‘reserves’ (e.g. National Grid data on STOR events; the BEIS sub-national road transport consumption data) to develop methods of representing the changing relation between supply, demand and service provision for gas, electricity and vehicle fuel in space and time (Shove et al. 2009). How are future flexibilities envisioned and established? We need to know what visions of demand adaptability and timing are inscribed in present and future infrastructure plans, and how institutional arrangements ‘block’ or facilitate demand-side flexibility at different scales. Turning the problem around, we explore plausible patterns of time-use consistent with significant decarbonisation of energy supply and much greater reliance on renewables (secondary data analysis / interviews with national organisations (National Grid, Ofgem, DfT, NIC); and city authorities / interactive feedback / time use and practice scenarios / international workshop).


  • A single flexibility ‘map’ of gas, electricity and vehicle fuel showing headroom over time, identifying thresholds/critical points relating to increased and decreased demand and showing when and where these occur + workshop; commissioned analyses of flexibility in the past; review of current thinking about the future
    timing of demand and flexibility and analysis of proposed plans; time-energy scenarios + international workshop. 3 Journal articles; 1 special issue. October 2018 – September 2020
  • Events: CREDS Whole Centre Workshop on Time and Flexibility
    16th – 17th September 2019, Lancaster University. The purpose of this two-day workshop is to focus on questions about the time and timing of energy demand at different scales, and to consider the practical implications that CREDS themes and projects might have for when energy is used.

Background paper

Time and Flexibility in Energy Demand (pdf, 5 pages)

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