Ambitious goals for reducing carbon emissions require the rapid and widespread deployment of energy efficient technologies throughout all sectors of the economy, together with far-reaching changes in infrastructures, institutions, social practices and cultural norms. The rate and scale of change required has few historical precedents and presents a major policy challenge.
The Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand (CIED) contributes to this challenge by developing a socio-technical understanding of the emergence, diffusion and impact of low energy innovations. These include new technologies (e.g. heat pumps), organisational arrangements (e.g. car sharing) and modes of behaviour (e.g. cycling) that are expected to improve energy efficiency and/or reduce energy demand. Through collaboration and engagement with relevant stakeholders, we use this understanding to develop practical policy recommendations.
CIED is a collaboration between researchers from the Sussex Energy Group (SEG) at SPRU, University of Sussex; theTransport Studies Unit (TSU) at the University of Oxford; and the Sustainable Consumption Institute (SCI) at the University of Manchester and is one of six Research Centres on End Use Energy Demand funded by the RCUK Energy Programme.
Our research programme is:
- interdisciplinary: drawing upon a variety of perspectives from economics, innovation studies and urban geography;
- multi-method: employing historical and contemporary case studies, surveys, econometric analysis, systems dynamics modelling and systematic reviews;
- broad-based: investigating low-energy innovations relevant to industry, households, public and commercial buildings and all modes of transport; and
- relevant: collaborating with stakeholders and undertaking wide-ranging engagement activities
Why study low energy innovations?
Innovation and diffusion are social, political and cultural processes, involving complex interactions between a range of groups with different interests, resources, strategies and beliefs. They are driven by multiple positive feedback mechanisms, such as scale and learning economies and knowledge spill-overs that act to reduce costs, increase market size, encourage investment and trigger further technical improvements and cost reductions. Technologies co-evolve with infrastructures, skills, institutions, policies, user practices and cultural norms to create socio-technical systems that have considerable inertia, making it difficult for new, low energy innovations to become established. Radical innovations frequently offer greater potential for energy savings, but face greater obstacles in becoming established because they depart in more significant ways from existing systems.
Even when established, low-energy innovations may not deliver the anticipated energy and carbon savings. For example, improvements in the energy efficiency of cars may encourage people to travel further and more often in larger, faster, more powerful and emptier cars, thereby further embedding the socio-technical system of car-based transport.
So to achieve ambitious carbon targets, the processes of socio-technical change need to be understood, the mechanisms through which such changes can be directed need to be identified and the unintended consequences of low-energy innovations need to be anticipated and addressed. Projects within the Centre investigate each of these challenges for selected innovations.