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Shifting the focus towards energy demand

03 December, 2020

Shifting the focus towards energy demand

Clare Downing

Case study  

Clare Downing

The Government has set out ambitious targets to meet its national and international commitments to tackle climate change. The Clean Growth Strategy (2017) sets out a blueprint for how the UK can benefit from low carbon opportunities. With the Net Zero target (2019), the UK became the first major economy in the world to legislate to end its contribution to global warming by 2050Opens in a new tab.

In response to these policy ambitions we launched our first major cross-theme report, called Shifting the focus: energy demand in a net-zero carbon UK (July 2019). The report aims to answer the question: “What is the role of energy demand change in the transition to an energy system that is consistent with a net-zero carbon UK?”. The overall conclusions are that demand side change should be a major part of the strategy for an affordable, secure and net-zero carbon energy system. Delivering it will not be easy, as it is a broad agenda, but delivering the transition without doing demand side change would be much more costly and difficult.

This was the first CREDS cross-theme activity, using existing research, with the aims of developing collaborative working across CREDS, producing policy relevant outputs to provide early impact and helping identify gaps in our research plans. The drafting involved 22 members of the Centre and internal reviews involved another 12, so the report achieved the goal of establishing joint working across themes.

Our main message is that changing energy demand is more complex than the traditional agenda of marginal energy efficiency improvement. The change required has four dimensions:

Changing energy using activities. Broadening the scope of thinking to include the drivers of energy demand, such as social change to more sustainable consumption, resource efficiency to reduce industrial energy demand, and planning for service accessibility and modal shift to reduce mobility demand.

Radical improvements in energy efficiency. These include net-zero energy new buildings, low energy modes in transport, electrification of vehicles and heating, and new industrial processes.

Flexing electricity demand in time, using the large scope for demand side response (DSR) enabled by new opportunities from electrification of vehicles and heating, and digitalisation.

Switching to decarbonised fuels at the point of use. This raises major challenges in sectors that are difficult to electrify: space heating, freight, aviation and industrial processes, and will involve major changes by supply chains and users.

The document is available as a full report or as a summary version, with video highlights.

We established an excellent working relationship with the BBC’s environment correspondent, Roger Harrabin, and agreed a media exclusive. His contribution resulted in multiple national and local TV (5 interviews) and radio interviews (4) on the day of the launch, many with high listening/viewing ratings. The highlight was Nick Eyre being interviewed by Mishal Husain on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on the morning of the launch.

In the first 5 days after the launch, the CREDS website news item and report publication page were viewed more than 1,100 times and the report pdf was downloaded 873 times. Subsequently, we have responded to a wide variety of stakeholders who wrote more than 10 online articles, including Reasons to be Cheerful PodcastOpens in a new tab (Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd), Carbon BriefOpens in a new tab and New Zealands’ Newstalk ZB. We produced a limited number of hard copy reports that have been posted to key stakeholders including MPs. This resulted in a meeting with the DfT Minister and officials.

The report was the third most popular page on the CREDS website during its first year and even a year and a half after its launch it is still very popular (11th most popular page), with 2,728 downloads to date.

We worked with Green Alliance to support them in producing their own policy-facing report Balancing the Energy Equation, based on CREDS’ research in Shifting the Focus. This was further promoted with blogs on both the CREDS and Green Alliance websites.

Future plans

Shifting the Focus continues to be one of CREDS’ key documents and it will continue to be used throughout the programme to promote the energy demand message.

Sources of information


The government’s approach to energy is self-defeating. It ignores half of the equation and denies people considerable benefits. Not only would reducing demand help to reach carbon reduction targets earlier, it would also reduce infrastructure costs and benefit everyone – through cleaner air, more comfortable homes and healthier lives. Libby Peake, head of resource policy at Green Alliance

Publication details

Downing, C. 2020. Shifting the focus towards energy demand. Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions. Oxford, UK. CREDS case study.

Banner photo credit: Alireza Attari on Unsplash