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School of Social and Political Science: Research


Reframing Energy Demand: Innovation for Sustainable Heat (REDish)

As part of the UK’s response to the threat of climate change, the UK Government has set out a radical  plan to end the emission of greenhouse gases from all buildings by 2050. Achieving this will mean  confronting two longstanding and deeply embedded contributors to such emissions: the poor energy  efficiency standards of many UK buildings and our dependence on fossil fuels for heating.   

Despite the fact that almost half of the energy we use in the UK is for heating, the problems of how to  make major reductions in demand, and to decarbonise supply to meet remaining needs, have received  limited attention. In addition, the evidence is that more radical forms of energy efficiency and heat  innovations are happening more slowly than has often been assumed. There are significant  uncertainties about the best ways to increase the pace of change in relation to better insulation of  buildings, energy sources, technologies and prices. There are also contentious questions about shares  of costs and benefits. Our social science research will address these uncertainties and contribute new  insights into innovation for energy efficient and sustainable heat in Europe.   

Although the UK is not alone in confronting these challenges, UK patterns of energy efficiency and  heating for buildings are significantly different from many other European countries, reflecting the UK’s  history of cheap and plentiful natural gas resources, and the low priority given to energy efficiency and  the environmental impacts of fossil fuels. Other parts of Europe have different histories, and have  established policies, technologies and businesses oriented to efficiency and low carbon supplies. There  are opportunities for the UK to benefit from such experience. We will compare UK, Danish and German  responses to concurrent economic and environmental challenges, and the role of cities in emerging  solutions in each case. We will study particular cities in England, Scotland, Germany and Denmark to  identify and analyse differences in energy performance of buildings, heating systems, and energy policy  and market structures. Findings will be used to provide insight into feasible and effective ways forward  for UK energy efficiency and sustainable heat policy.  

Rather than narrow (and potentially misleading) technical and economic assessments, our research  focuses on explaining the differences between societies in patterns of energy efficiency and demand  for heating. We pay particular attention to urban settings, because this is where heat demand is  concentrated and where many resources for innovation are located, but we also consider the  interaction of city, national and European scales.   

Our research aims are threefold:   

First, to develop a new analysis of innovations in energy efficiency and sustainable heat by drawing on  two related strands of social science research on innovation: social studies of the technical  infrastructures and market instruments which underpin energy demand and supply, and which  structure the pace and shape of change.  

Second, to develop detailed evidence about emerging innovations for energy efficiency and sustainable  heat in selected UK and European cities, and to analyse the implications of these innovations for urban  energy demand to 2050.  

Third, to use our research to identify the potential, and means, for shared learning between European  cities, in relation to energy efficiency and sustainable heat policy and practice. We will do this by  working closely with UK and European policymakers, businesses and communities.  

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