New funding announced today will see the first ever national observatory on public engagement in energy and low carbon transitions established at the University of East Anglia (UEA).
The initiative is part of £22 million allocated to UK institutions to undertake research on the decarbonisation of key sectors such as industry, transport and heat, and explore the role of local, national and global changes in energy systems.
This funding for the fourth phase of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) will enable engineers, social scientists and natural scientists to conduct vital research on global energy challenges and their implications for the UK, as it works towards achieving its net zero target.
Led by UCL, UKERC encompasses 17 universities, the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Chatham House and the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies and is funded through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Energy Programme by UKRI’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council.
UKRI is providing £18 million of support for the fourth phase of UKERC, with partners contributing £4 million.
Prof Jason Chilvers will become a co-director of UKERC and head of the new observatory for societal engagement with energy and net zero transitions, based within the Science, Society and Sustainability (3S) Research Group at UEA.
“We are delighted that UEA has become a core part of what is internationally recognised as the UK’s major hub for interdisciplinary whole-system energy research,” said Prof Chilvers, of the School of Environmental Sciences.
“We are excited to contribute to this £22 million research programme that will help the UK and other countries pursue net zero emissions targets in ways that are sustainable and just.”
The observatory will monitor the many different ways that citizens are engaging with energy transitions on an ongoing basis, ranging from everyday consumption, citizens’ assemblies and social media through to protests and community action.
Prof Chilvers added: “The observatory will translate this evidence to improve how society is being engaged and how public views and actions are accounted for in addressing urgent problems of energy and climate change.”
UEA will also contribute to the Energy, Ecosystems and Resources theme in the fourth phase of UKERC, including in a project on tools to support decision making led by Prof Andrew Lovett of the School of Environmental Sciences.
UK Research and Innovation chief executive, Prof Sir Mark Walport, said: “Moving the UK to a sustainable, resilient energy system that delivers on our net zero ambitions requires collaboration, better data and expertise across the research and innovation ecosystem.
“UKERC plays an important role in supporting this transition, delivering world-class research, facilitating national and international collaboration and generating evidence that informs real-world decisions.”
UKERC’s research programme will build evidence to inform decisions that shape the UK's transition towards a net zero energy system and economy. It will explore the potential economic, political, social and environmental costs and benefits of energy system change, and consider how these impacts can be distributed equitably. UKERC will also host and curate energy data, map and monitor public engagement, carry out systematic evidence reviews and improve the transparency and understanding of energy models.
The centre has also announced today that Dr Robert Gross, from Imperial College London, has been appointed as its new director. Dr Gross, who is one of UKERC’s co-directors, succeeds Prof Jim Watson, who has been UKERC director since 2015.
Dr Gross, said: “The UK’s net zero emissions target for 2050 requires urgent and ambitious action now, particularly by government.
“UKERC already has a strong international reputation for ground breaking interdisciplinary research on the transformation of energy systems. This new phase of funding will enable us to implement an exciting new agenda of research and engagement, and to inform the decisions that need to be made over the next five years.”
UKERC will also continue to support the wider energy research community by facilitating engagement with other stakeholders, supporting career development and capacity building, and enhancing international collaboration.