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New times, new policies? Policies to change energy use in the context of zero carbon

30 June, 2022

New times, new policies? Policies to change energy use in the context of zero carbon

Nick Eyre

John Barrett

Yekatherina Bobrova

Colin Nolden

Research paper   Policy & Governance

Nick Eyre, John Barrett, Yekatherina Bobrova, Colin Nolden and Jan Rosenow


Policies to improve energy efficiency have been discussed and implemented since the oil crises of the 1970s. Over this period, a wide range of disciplinary approaches has been used to design and analyse effective policies, with a developing consensus that a policy mix is the most effective approach.

However, the required shift to zero carbon energy systems within a few decades is disruptive. The rates of change in technology and practices implied by global carbon targets are inconsistent with analyses assuming incremental change. Combustion of fossil fuel needs to be largely eliminated, rather than improved. New challenges such as temporal flexibility in electricity use are emerging. Future energy systems seem very likely to be more decentralised, electrified and service-oriented, and therefore involve new actors. With new sets of fuels, technologies and potential actors, it is imprudent to assume that existing policy approaches will be adequate.

The paper starts from an existing assessment of a low-energy, net-zero energy system in the UK (Barrett et al, 2021). It identifies the key implied changes to energy-using technologies and practices. It investigates policy options to promote each type of change and discusses whether these are adequate for the rates of change now needed. Where it appears unlikely that rates of change can be delivered within existing policy frameworks, the paper identifies what new options might be considered.

The paper concludes that changes to the technology, fuels and associated practices required to increase end use conversion efficiencies will be critical and are largely achievable by adapting policy approaches and instruments that have been used successfully. However, changing the structure of demand for energy services is also needed if demand reduction is to play a bigger role. This will need to draw on a wider set of policy approaches, including policy options not normally considered as part of energy policy.

Publication details

Eyre, N., Barrett, J., Bobrova, Y., Nolden, C. and Rosenow, J. 2022. New times, new policies? Policies to change energy use in the context of zero carbonOpens in a new tab. In: Proceedings of eceee Summer Study on energy efficiency 2022.

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