Elliott Johnson and Sam Betts-Davies
As early career researchers, from the early stages of designing a research project, we are often told to plan specifically who your research is targeting, and how will they benefit from it. By directly fulfilling a stakeholder’s precise need, you can ensure the work generates that all important impact. However, our experiences with Positive Low Energy Futures found a different approach, rooted in a flexibility that allowed us to capitalise on new relationships.
Positive Low Energy Futures was a cross-centre, collaborative piece of modelling work aimed at plugging a vital gap in the UK national energy demand research landscape. The project was a flexible, iterative process, born out of the CREDS flexible fund, that allowed us to bring together 17 modelling experts from across several institutions – both within CREDS and externally – to deliver the most comprehensive estimate for the potential role of energy demand reduction in the UK’s climate mitigation challenge to date. The research culminated in results demonstrating that the UK could potentially reduce its energy demand by up to 52% by 2050, reduce the cost of the transition to net zero and reduce our reliance on risky Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies that are unproven at scale – all whilst improving social outcomes.
The benefits of being part of a large research centre include the flexibility offered by a strategically prioritised flexible fund and the breadth of expertise across all major energy service demand sectors, which enabled the creation of such a substantial and important piece of work that filled a significant gap in the research landscape. It was recognised that a comprehensive, whole-systems exploration of the potential that energy demand reduction had in the UK was (a) missing from the research landscape and (b) within the capabilities of CREDS to produce.
From its inception, the Positive Low Energy Futures project sought to ensure that the impact would reach a diverse set of stakeholders. By design, research findings were strategically publicised to multiple stakeholder groups, led by a communication and promotion strategy utilising a variety of mediums (digital content, animations, webinars, reports and high-profile academic journal papers) and platforms (online talks, conference presentations, media engagement), supported by the key skills in impact and engagement held by the CREDS core team.
In this case, such an approach of not designing the research in service of a particular stakeholder’s needs, whilst still strategically publicising the work to a broad and interested audience, allowed us to take advantage of various opportunities for collaboration generated by the project. This approach created new relationships with stakeholders outside of our usual field of vision, maximising the impact of the work beyond those that would be conventionally targeted. Although it was not designed for one particular audience, the work has gone on to have significant impact within national government and their advisory groups, devolved administrations and also domestic and European research groups.
Promotion & collaboration
To promote the research project’s findings, CREDS hosted an online launch in October 2021, which was attended by a variety of different stakeholders including academics, policymakers and politicians as well as private sector groups. Shortly after, we were contacted by the Government Office for Science, who attended the launch and were interested in using the modelling framework developed for Positive Low Energy Futures to generate their own scenarios for an upcoming net zero Foresight project. This research looked to explore the role of societal and behavioural change within net zero pathways and adopt a similar methodological approach to us. As a result, the CREDS modelling team were heavily involved in the development, modelling and write up of the subsequent GO-Science report, which found that pathways with little societal demand change will find it much harder to deliver net zero emissions by 2050.
This collaboration also led to further opportunities to present the original PLEF scenarios to other stakeholders throughout government, including a breakfast meeting of the Government’s Scientific Advisors and several committee meetings hosted by the All Party Intelligent Energy Group and All Party Parliamentary Group for Renewable and Sustainable Energy and the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. These opportunities were available thanks to the flexible approach taken to producing impact and a willingness to undertake further collaborative work with interested parties.
Furthermore, Positive Low Energy Futures was also presented to a European audience at the 2022 eceee (European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy) conference in Hyères, France. After the presentation, we engaged with attendants from Association négaWatt, a French research group that had also explored a low energy demand scenario for France, and were now looking embark on a more ambitious project – a low energy demand scenario for Europe. They were also keen to include the UK but had gaps in their data. As a result, CREDS was able to become a partner in the project, using the Positive Low Energy Future results to inform the UK portion of the European pathway.
The key advantage of the original CREDS’ work was that it was not designed or produced with a particular audience in mind, facilitating these diverse collaborations to be pursued by willing and able research and knowledge exchange staff in the aftermath of the project. Two distinct organisations were both keen to use the work in two very different ways. GO-Science wanted to adopt the same methodological approach to produce their own scenarios, whilst négaWatt were more interested in the model outputs and implications. With further collaborations on the horizon, a desire to share the PLEF findings with – and involve – as wide an audience as possible has meant that the work has been utilised in a broad way and has contributed to the growing national and international consensus on the benefits and potential of energy demand reduction.
Johnson, E. and Betts-Davies, S. 2023. Positive Low Energy Futures – impact case study. Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions. Oxford, UK. CREDS case study.
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