To develop computer-based modelling platforms that determine the combined impacts of all elements of a future energy pathway on natural capital and ES provision allowing for the whole-system evaluation of a pathway and facilitating comparison across pathways.


Projects 11, 12 & 13 build on the detailed characterisation of the individual elements of each energy pathway developed in Project 4. Integrating evidence from the existing literature with the new knowledge developed in Projects 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10, it seeks to develop computer-based models that evaluate the combined and potentially cumulative impacts of all elements of a future energy system.

Two distinct but complementary modelling methodologies are explored. The first, developed in Project 11, applies methods of spatially-disaggregated environmental and microeconomic modelling. These have key strengths in revealing how the impacts of an energy pathway on natural capital and the provision of ESs interact over space and accumulate over time. The second method, developed in Project 12, employs methods of macroeconomic modelling. These have a principal focus on understanding how natural capital use under a particular energy pathway impacts on the sectorally-aggregated functioning of the economy and the concomitant implications for prices, growth, jobs and trade. Project 13 explores the possibility for the iterative soft-linking of the microeconomic and macroeconomic models so as to facilitate a coherent whole-system assessment of energy pathways.

The investigations in this project build on existing modelling platforms that have been rigorously tested in previous exercises evaluating future UK policy pathways. The core undertaking of Projects 11, 12 & 13 is to extend the platforms to accommodate the particular implications of future energy systems. Evaluation and comparison of different pathways using the two platforms is performed in Project 15.

In Project 11 the spatially-disaggregated integrated assessment model builds on UEA’s TIM (The Integrated Model) platform. The TIM platform has been developed and refined through numerous previous projects including the NEA and Follow-On programme. In essence, the model partitions the UK over a fine grid (2km squares) using a series of sub-modules to establish how natural capital stocks and ES flows change in response to alterations in the activities in each cell of that grid. The model captures interactions between cells; a change in activity in one cell, for example, might impact on other cells through natural pathways such as the hydrological system or through human pathways such as changing patterns of agricultural activity.

Currently, the model focuses on non-urban terrestrial environments particularly on ES relating to semi-natural habitats, agriculture and forestry. There are modules that predict how use of those terrestrial environments will alter as a consequence of changing climates, policy and market conditions over the period from the present to 2050. In turn, those modules quantify and monetize the resulting changes in ES, particularly those relating to the production of food and timber, to recreational use of the terrestrial environment and also to surface water quality, carbon balances and a measure of biodiversity based on bird populations.

The main research effort within Project 11 will be to develop modules that evaluate the ecosystem services impacts of key elements of future energy systems not currently captured by the TIM platform. These extensions will include:

1. Ground Water and Water Quantities: With input from UEA hydrologists (Prof Kevin Hiscock), the hydrological modules in TIM will be extended to include groundwater systems and the water quantity implications of energy, agricultural and water supply activities. Those extensions will allow for a spatially-explicit examination of interactions through the Energy-Water-Food nexus under different energy pathways.

2. Visual Disamenity: Informed by Project 8, a visual disamenity module will be introduced to TIM evaluating the spatial-specific costs of energy infrastructure and supply chains. A particular, innovation of the implementation in TIM will be the use of cost surfaces to establish the least cost routes for new transmission infrastructure taking account of trade-offs between costs associated with construction, visual disamenity and transmission losses.

3. Biodiversity: The new biodiversity metrics developed in Project 9 will be introduced into TIM (replacing the current measures based on bird populations) allowing the detailed spatial analysis of the health and biological diversity of ecosystems under different energy pathways.

4. Marine Environments: Building on NERC’s Marine Ecosystems Research Programme (of which PML is coordinator) the possibilities for extending TIM to encompass marine environments will be explored, particularly in identifying the energy potential of offshore wind farms and quantifying their impact on the diversity and productivity of marine ecosystems.

The enhanced TIM model will provide an integrating platform allowing for a spatially and temporally explicit exploration of the environmental impacts of different energy pathways. In accordance with the ESs paradigm, not only will TIM provide estimates of the physical changes in natural capital and ecosystems services but also the economic value of those changes. Moreover, the TIM platform permits distributional analysis in which the physical and monetary impacts are disaggregated both spatially and socioeconomically across the UK.

In addition to the core research, Project 11 will be the focus of a PhD studentship. This project will further develop TIM’s spatial optimisation procedures in order to identify the optimal spatial configuration of an energy system (for example, the optimal location for energy generation facilities and transmission infrastructure). Moreover, the studentship will break new academic ground by developing methods of robust spatial optimization, methods that specifically acknowledge uncertainties in the values attributed to changes in the provision of ESs.