Energy systems around the world are changing fast due to a combination of technological change, policy imperatives and wider changes in the economy and in politics. At the same time, most countries still rely largely on the use of fossil fuels. Past experience suggests that a fundamental transformation of energy production and use could take a long time.

In the UK too, these changes are starting to have a significant impact. Renewable electricity generation is rising steadily, coal use is declining rapidly and energy demand peaked over 10 years ago. However, despite the promise of new low carbon technologies, energy use for heating and transport is changing much more slowly – and remains dominated by oil and gas.

Against this background, UKERC is carrying out a flagship interdisciplinary research project that is exploring how such changes could affect the development of the UK energy system. The project is focusing on a range of potential changes – from changes that could be disruptive to energy markets, business models and incumbent players to more continuity-based changes that do not fundamentally challenge current patterns of energy provision.

The main objectives of the project include:

  • to identify potential drivers of disruption and continuity, and how they could affect the future development of the UK energy system
  • to explore methods for understanding disruption and continuity in energy systems; and
  • to bring together research from across the UKERC research programme; and
  • to inform decision making

Three initial work packages are underway or planned:

  1. a literature review of disruption and continuity, focusing on the role of specific firms and markets, and on wider energy system change;
  2. a Policy Delphi study to identify expert views on potential sources of disruption and continuity in energy systems; and
  3. an evidence review on the extent to which disruption to energy systems has been explored by energy scenarios and models.

These three work packages will be followed by a small number of commissioned projects. The focus of these projects will depend on the outcomes of the preceding work packages, and will explore specific dimensions of disruption and/or continuity in more detail.

The project started in January 2017, and will run until early 2019. An Advisory Group has been convened to help shape the project as it develops, and to ensure that it is relevant to decision makers. The group is chaired by Professor Peter Taylor, University of Leeds, and includes representatives from academia, government and business.