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NERN Newsletter


Welcome to the National Energy Research Network newsletter, which is published weekly and aims to provide relevant information to energy researchers. Extra content is always welcome - if you would like something added please contact the editor, Dr Mike Weston. You can view previous NERN newsletters in the archive.

Newsletter 301 - 17/10/14


UKERC Twitter feed

Interesting developments

Reports

Jobs and opportunities

Funding

Events and Conferences

NERN blog




UKERC Twitter feed

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Interesting developments

A watt saved…

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Mon 17 November 2014 12:36 GMT - (25 Reads)

IEA Calls for Strengthening Energy Efficiency Market- A market report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) confirms the role of energy efficiency as the “first fuel,” butt stresses that while it is becoming an established market segment, efforts to strengthen financing for energy efficiency should be strengthened.

On market trends and progress, the report-

  • calculates that energy efficiency improvements in 11 IEA member countries over the past 40 years contributed to the saving of 1,336 million tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 2012, equal to more than the total final consumption of the EU;
  • estimates the value of the global energy efficiency market in 2012 at US$310-360 billion;
  • highlights energy efficiency as the key driver in lower total final consumption; and stresses that the current pace of energy efficiency improvements is not sufficient to stay below 2°C of global warming.

On transport, the IEA underscores the potential for energy efficiency in the sector, and notes that, since demand for energy is expected to stabilize in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, new efficiency potential will lie in emerging economies. The Agency estimates global investments in efficient transit systems to total US$233 billion by 2020.

On finance, the report finds that the energy efficiency market is becoming an established financial market segment but requires increased levels of financing. The IEA estimates the current size of the financial market for energy efficiency at approximately US$120 billion per year. According to the Agency, the number of products and volume of finance have expanded greatly over the past years, but “to fully expand this market, initiatives to continue to reduce barriers will need to strengthen.”

Millennials in Motion – A recently published report into the changing travel habits of young Americans shows that over the last decade, after 60-plus years of steady increases, the number of miles driven by the average American has been falling. Young Americans have experienced the greatest changes: driving less; taking transit, biking and walking more; and seeking out places to live in cities and walkable communities where driving is an option, not a necessity.

Academic research, survey results and government data point to a multitude of factors at play in the recent decline in driving among young people: socioeconomic shifts, changes in consumer preferences, technological changes, efforts by state governments and colleges to limit youth driving, and more.

Several indicators – including continued decreases in per-capita driving across the whole U.S. population, the continued shift away from the use of cars for commuting by Millennials, and the consistency of Millennials’ stated preferences for housing and transportation – suggest that it is unlikely that the trend toward less driving among Millennials during the 2000s has reversed thus far in the current decade. Moreover, many of the factors that have contributed to the recent decline in driving among young Americans appear likely to last.  The authors recommend that this offer the opportunity for the nation’s transportation policies to acknowledge, accommodate and support Millennials’ demands for a greater array of transportation choices.

 

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Invitation to UKERC Events

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Wed 12 November 2014 23:59 GMT - (22 Reads)

Green Jobs, 5 November - Do green sectors actually create jobs? UKERC's report and launch event will controversially ask if policy-driven expansion of specific green sectors actually creates jobs, particularly when the policies in question require subsidies that are paid for through bills or taxes.

Gas by Design, 12 November - Gas by Design: A Strategy for Delivering Secure and Sustainable Energy. As we move into winter and higher gas demand, UKERC's second report and launch event intends to spark debate on the key threats to UK gas security.

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Asia's energy challenge

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Sat 17 October 2015 09:00 BST - (24 Reads)

Coal demand in China - China’s projected coal consumption has been making the news this week with concerns expressed that major exporters like Australia are too wedded to Chinese demand.

Writing earlier this week, Beijing-based energy consultant Lucas Bifera argued that China’s 13th Five Year Plan, due for final release in March 2016, will be the key to Beijing’s forward coal consumption.

He cited ‘current signals’ on the 13th Five Year Plan that suggest a move to slower rates of coal use, given China’s industrial overcapacity. ‘Industrial utilization rates have weakened on sluggish demand-side activity from the steel and cement sectors, which are among China’s largest consumers of coal.’

He added that ‘China’s National Energy Administration Planning Board Division…recommended that the 13th Five Year Plan contain a 60% coal consumption target by 2020—a sizable decrease from 67% in 2013.’

Bifera discounted international negotiations, and public statements by China’s National Development and Reform Commission officials, saying these gave less indication of Beijing’s approach than the Five Year Plan.

He also believes a rising service sector will contribute to carbon cuts outside the scope of carbon policy, stating that service sector growth inversely correlates with carbon emissions.

Hot air in Tokyo - Boiling hot offices are a new feature of working life in Japan since air conditioning was curtailed, according to an insightful Canadian report by Chuck Chiang.

‘Walking the halls of the central government offices — filled with thousands of bureaucrats — air conditioning is mostly absent. Some workers have electric fans, others have access to some lightly air-conditioned rooms (just enough to provide a hint of a breeze every few minutes). For the most part, however, working in these buildings has become a sweaty endeavour,’ Chiang writes.

Canadian interest in the story lies with Japanese demand for liquefied natural gas from British Columbia. Japan is already the world’s largest importer of the commodity following post- Fukushima cuts in nuclear power.

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When the levy breaks…

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Mon 17 November 2014 11:22 GMT - (21 Reads)

European Commission Calculates EU Energy Costs and Subsidies - The European Commission has released a report that quantifies public interventions in energy markets. As the first study to provide data on energy costs and subsidies for all 28 EU member States and power generation technologies, the report seeks to enhance understanding on the functioning of energy markets and the size and effect of government interventions across the Union.

The report, titled 'Subsidies and Costs of EU Energy: An Interim Report' presents: historical and current data on public interventions in all EU member States; monetary values for external costs on the environment from the energy system; and energy cost data covering capital and operational costs of electricity and heat technologies.

The total energy subsidy in 2012 was €122bn, with renewable receiving €41bn and energy efficiency receiving €9bn. The study, the first full data set compiled on EU energy subsidies, covered energy in sectors other than transport. The largest amounts were directed at solar energy (€14.7 billion), onshore wind (€10.1 billion) and coal (€10.1 billion). While the largest amounts of public support went to renewables, the study points out that: including emission allowances and consumption tax support would reduce the difference compared to support to other power generation technologies; and the scale of historical interventions directed at coal and nuclear energy is considerable.

The study calculates levelized costs for different technologies: €75/MWh for coal; “only somewhat higher costs” for onshore wind compared to coal; approximately €100/MWh for nuclear power and natural gas; and €100-115/MWh for solar energy. The report also estimates the total external costs of the EU's energy mix in 2012, at €150-310 billion.

Germany plans first ever cut to green energy levy - The energy surcharge Germany uses to finance the expansion of renewables is planned to decrease in the coming year from 6.24 euro cents per kWh of power to 6.17 cents. The reduction was announced by operators of the German transmission network this week. The Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) is a central instrument of support for developing wind, solar and biomass power generation. Under the EEG law, network operators are required to prioritise power generated from renewables and to compensate the power plant operators. In this way, the extra costs created by this system are transferred to energy users via the EEG surcharge.

The average total price of energy for private households is currently around 30 cents per kWh. According to a study released in February, German household energy prices are 48% higher than the European average. A recent amendment to the EEG, tabled this year, aimed at preventing a rise in cost for household consumers but analysts do not see a correlation between the reforms and the reduced surcharge.

World Bank Links Energy Subsidy Reform to Job Creation in MENA Region - A study by the World Bank finds evidence of a positive relationship between fuel prices, per capita gross domestic product (GDP) growth and job creation, and encourages the governments of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to cut energy subsidies in order to build dynamic, employment-intensive economies. The study, titled ‘Corrosive Subsidies,' also projects economic growth in the MENA transition countries to be hampered by macroeconomic imbalances and unfinished subsidy reform.

Regarding subsidies, the report explains that the MENA has 5.5% of the world's population and generates 3.3% of its GDP, while paying an amount equal to 48% of the world's energy subsidies. It notes that, while subsidies deplete government budgets and benefit the rich more than the poor, there is political resistance to reform. According to the study, energy subsidies have contributed to some of the region's major development challenges, including: growth below potential; high unemployment due to capital-intensive production; air pollution, traffic accidents and congestion; and declining renewable water availability, combined with water-intensive agriculture.

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Fusion – blowing hot and cold

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Mon 17 November 2014 10:46 GMT - (20 Reads)

EUROfusion launches a new era for fusion in Europe - EUROfusion, the European consortium for the development of fusion energy, was recently officially launched. The new consortium will enable Europe's national laboratories to pool their resources even more efficiently – a measure which became necessary to meet the challenge of increasingly complex and large-scale projects such as ITER and DEMO.

Preparation for the joint fusion programme started in 2012 when all EU research laboratories involved in fusion research drafted a detailed goal-oriented programme to realise fusion energy by 2050 known as the ‘Roadmap to the Realisation of Fusion Electricity'. The roadmap has two main aims: preparing for ITER experiments in order to ensure that Europe makes best possible use of ITER; and developing concepts for a fusion power demonstration plant (DEMO). It outlines how the research necessary towards reaching these aims will be carried out by universities and research centres within the current European Framework Programme Horizon 2020.

Cold fusion reactor apparently verified by third-party researchers - E-Cat, a device that purports to use cold fusion to generate massive amounts of cheap, green energy has apparently been verified by third-party researchers, according to a new 54-page report. This new study on the E-Cat was carried out by six researchers from Italy and Sweden who observed a small unit containing 1 gram of fuel  over 32 days, where it produced net energy of 1.5 megawatt-hours, or “far more than can be obtained from any known chemical sources in the small reactor volume.”

The device’s inventor claims that the E-Cat uses low-energy nuclear reactions to fuse nickel and hydrogen atoms into copper releasing significant energy. The researchers, analysing the fuel before and after the 32-day burn, note that there is an isotope shift from a “natural” mix of Nickel-58/Nickel-60 to almost entirely Nickel-62 a reaction that, the researchers say, cannot occur without nuclear reactions (i.e. fusion).

Lockheed claims breakthrough on fusion energy project – Earlier this week Lockheed Martin Corp announced via a press release and video that it had made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion. The researchers indicated that initial work had demonstrated the feasibility of building a 100-megawatt reactor measuring seven feet by 10 feet, which could fit on the back of a large truck, and is about 10 times smaller than current reactors. Lockheed said it would build and test a compact fusion reactor in less than a year, and build a prototype in five years.

According to reports in the Guardian fusion researchers have responded coolly to the Lockheed announcement claiming the four paragraph press release is heavy on hype and light on detail.

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Reports

This week's reports

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Sat 17 October 2015 09:00 BST - (21 Reads)
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Jobs and opportunities

Research Associate in Numerical Modelling of Novel Low CO2 Internal Combustion Engines, UCL

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Sun 09 November 2014 23:59 GMT - (28 Reads)

A Research Associate position is available at University College London (UCL) in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

We are looking to appoint an enthusiastic and independently working Research Associate to work on a new EPSRC research project that will look into the fundamentals of spray formation, mixture preparation and combustion in novel direct-injection spark-ignition and compression-ignition engine designs.

Key requirements:

  • The candidate should have a PhD or soon to submit a thesis for a PhD in mechanical engineering or related field with a strong background in computational fluid dynamics applied to internal combustion engine research, including airflow, mixture preparation and combustion modelling.
  • Prior experience with the commercial codes STAR-CD and STAR-CCM+ is important, as well as experience with open-source codes (FORTRAN/C++), e.g. OpenFOAM and KIVA, using both RANS and LES frameworks on multi-core high-performance computing clusters.
  • Excellent practical skills in the development of moving meshes for complex internal combustion engine geometries are highly desirable (structured and unstructured, e.g. using ICEM and ES-ICE).
  • Fundamental understanding of mixture preparation with different injection strategies, including mechanisms of spray formation but also of gaseous fuel in-cylinder mixing (e.g. hydrogen), is expected.

This post is funded for 3 years in the first instance and it is expected that the successful applicant will start in February 2015.

For more information please go here. The closing date is 9 November 2014.

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Senior Research Associate: Synthetic Inorganic Chemistry: Hybrid Polyoxometalate Photosensitizers, University of East Anglia

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Fri 07 November 2014 23:59 GMT - (29 Reads)

Working with Dr. John Fielden, the successful applicant will develop photoactive hybrids which link conjugated organic systems to electron accepting multimetallic clusters, and investigate their use in solar energy conversion.

Joining a growing group based in the Energy Materials Laboratory at the UEA, you will couple a demonstrably high level of expertise in synthetic inorganic or organometallic chemistry, with an interest in molecular photophysics and light energy harvesting.

You must also have, or be shortly going to obtain (within the next 6 months), a PhD in chemistry and be able to meet all essential aspects of the person specification.  The position will start as soon as possible after 1 December 2014, and at the latest by 1 February 2015.

For more information please go here. The closing date is 7 November 2014.

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Innovation Lead, Climate-KIC France

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Thu 23 October 2014 23:59 BST - (31 Reads)

Climate-KIC France is seeking an Innovation Lead who will be the visible owner of innovation activity in the Climate-KIC France centre.

As Innovation Lead, he/she will be responsible for managing and developing the overall innovation project portfolio in France.

We are looking for a person with extensive experience in innovation management liaising between different sector partners with a proven track of successfully bringing new products or services to market.

As Climate-KIC aims to mitigate and adapt to climate change by introducing new products and services to the market faster and supporting their scale-up an entrepreneurial flair and preferably some experience in product development is also required. The candidate should have a sound knowledge of different commercialisation and financing options as well as the handling of IP.

The candidate must be educated to at least a master’s degree, be completely fluent in English and have full professional proficiency in French.

In addition, he/she must have experience in at least one of the following topics:

  • Climate change, innovation, entrepreneurship, sustainable design, clean technology and engineering or similar.
  • Evidence of experience in working in multidisciplinary teams and fields and interacting with both scientists and corporate partners, preferably with application to climate change mitigation or adaptation.

The position includes frequent travel and requires motivation to work in different professional and cultural environments.

This position is offered for a period of one year with renewable contract. The employer is FCS Campus Paris-Saclay.

Possibilities of secondment can be discussed as needed.

For more information please go here. The closing date is 23 October 2014.

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Research Assistant in low-carbon energy approaches to the use of in situ coal and former coal mine workings, University of Glasgow

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Sun 19 October 2014 23:59 BST - (31 Reads)

You will contribute to two EU-funded projects (TOPS and LoCAL which concern aspects of low-carbon energy approaches to the use of in situ coal and former coal mine workings, respectively) working with Professor Paul Younger FREng and project partners in Poland and Spain.

The job requires expert knowledge in applied geoscience and/or environmental engineering.

The successful candidate will also be expected to contribute to the formulation and submission of research publications and research proposals as well as help manage and direct these complex and challenging projects as opportunities allow.

This post is currently funded until 30 June 2017.

For more information please go here. The closing date is 19 October 2014.

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UK Energy Research Centre-funded Associate Research Fellow, University of Exeter

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Sun 02 November 2014 23:59 GMT - (28 Reads)

The College of Life and Environmental Sciences wishes to recruit an Associate Research Fellow to support the work of Dr Matthew Lockwood. This UK Energy Research Council funded post is available full-time from 1 November 2014 to 31 October 2016.

The successful applicant will work on a project on the politics of UK and EU energy policy, with a special focus on electricity, funded by the UK Energy Research Council.

S/he will be responsible for a set of qualitative case studies of the political effects of closer electricity market coupling between European Union Member States under conditions of increasing amounts of variable renewable generation.

The successful applicant will be able to present information on research progress and outcomes, communicate complex information, orally, in writing and electronically and prepare proposals and applications to external bodies.

Applicants will possess a relevant PhD (or be nearing completion) or possess an equivalent qualification/experience in a related field of study and be able to demonstrate sufficient knowledge in the discipline and of research methods and techniques to work within established research programmes.

Applicants will have a track record of research in European politics and political economy.

Knowledge of the energy sector and ability to speak and/or read German are desirable.

For more information please go here. The closing date is 2 November 2014.

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Visit the jobs webpage for more opportunities and as ever if you know of any jobs, please let me know.

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Funding

Low carbon vehicle technologies

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Wed 22 October 2014 23:59 BST - (26 Reads)

The Innovate UK funding competition, Adapting cutting-edge technologies, has received a boost from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) to take the total funding available to £15 million.

The competition invites collaborative R&D projects based around technologies for road-vehicles that will deliver significant reductions in CO2 emissions.

For more information please go here. The closing date is the 22nd October 2014.

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Bright Ideas Research Fund

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Fri 24 October 2014 23:59 BST - (25 Reads)

We’ve set up the Nesta Policy and Research Bright Ideas Research Fund to provide small grants to develop interesting research projects and policy proposals in fields that relate to innovation but where we do not have big programmes already in place.

Projects can involve primary research, novel argumentation, or the development of a new idea, or ideally more than one of these things. They should be carefully and rigorously carried out, and should stand up to scrutiny. The end product should be written in an accessible style, suitable for a non-specialist reader.

Fields that we are particularly interested in:

  • Understanding the innovative businesses that matter
  • What do emerging technologies mean for the economy and society
  • How can we get a financial system better suited to innovation
  • Developing an innovation policy for the arts
  • Datavores ie data analytics changing the way we do business
  • Better government policy for innovation – data, experiments, judgment
  • Better government policy based on evidence and experiments
  • New trends in innovation from around the world
  • Collective intelligence
  • How to encourage new ideas and experimentation in social innovation
  • Scaling up social innovation
  • Big and open data for social innovation
  • Collaborative economy
  • Smarter smart cities
  • Accelerators

We will only fund up to £10,000 per proposal. We would not expect to fund any additional charges beyond the £10,000. Full economic costing is not required; we will assess each application on a case by case basis for overall value for money.

For more information please go here. The closing date is the 24th October 2014.

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Water Energy Food Nexus Sandpit: call for participants

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Tue 04 November 2014 23:59 GMT - (28 Reads)

Our water, energy and food systems are interconnected. The nexus seeks to define the interdependencies between the different systems and improve our understanding and hence ability to effectively predict and manage them. This complex area presents multi-dimensional research challenges that require a multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary approach to addressing them.

In response to these challenges EPSRC, with input from other research councils, is running a sandpit in the water energy food nexus in order to try to engender a radical change in the research undertaken in this field in the UK.

This Sandpit is being led by EPSRC with the support of three RCUK cross-council programmes: Living with Environmental Change, The Energy Programme and the Global Food Security Programme; and the UK cross-government /industry UK Water Research Innovation Partnership.

It is expected that £4-5 million of Research Council funding will be made available to fund research projects arising from this sandpit with additional computational modelling support from STFC.

For more information please go here. The closing date is the 4th November 2014.

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Challenges from the Manufacturing Foresight Report

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Tue 09 December 2014 23:59 GMT - (22 Reads)

The Manufacturing the Future Theme is looking to establish a number of Fellowships that will act as a response to the Manufacturing Foresight report, focussing on the Manufacturing research opportunities around the key technologies that are likely to, when integrated into future products and networks, collectively facilitate fundamental shifts in how products are designed, made, offered and ultimately used by consumers.

Successful Fellowships for the Future of Manufacturing will be expected to not only undertake leading research but also inform the research agenda around the challenges highlighted in the Foresight report, linking with the key activities required to enable this.

These Fellowships are intended to be analogous to the prestigious Dream Fellowship award, enabling talented researchers to take time out from their everyday activities, to give them the freedom to gain new knowledge of novel creative problem solving techniques, explore new radical ideas and develop new ambitious research directions, but in this case concentrating on key research issues for the UK that were identified in the Manufacturing Foresight report.

For more information please go here. The closing date is the 9th December 2014.

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Energy Catalyst - Mid-stage awards - Technology development - round 2

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Wed 11 February 2015 23:59 GMT - (27 Reads)

The Energy Catalyst has been established by Innovate UK, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to accelerate innovation in the energy sector from concept to pre-commercial readiness by providing investment and support at the time, in the way and at the scale innovators need it. Funding of up to £14m is available for the second round, opening 6 November 2014.

The Energy Catalyst is open to innovative businesses and researchers from any sector who can address the three major challenges facing the energy sector - the energy ‘trilemma' of:

  • Reducing emissions
  • Improving security of supply
  • Reducing cost

These challenges are creating major global market opportunities for which the UK can develop and grow innovative businesses to deliver world-leading solutions.

The Catalyst will support projects that contribute to all elements of the energy trilemma and funding will be available for three stages of technology development:

  • Early-stage award: Technical feasibility 
  • Mid-stage awards: Technology development
  • Late-stage awards: Pre-commercial technology validation

Organisations can apply for any stage of funding at any time, depending on where in the development cycle their technology sits.

Early-stage projects must be led by an SME either working alone or collaboratively or by a research organisation collaborating with a business. Mid-stage and late-stage projects must be business-led and collaborative. Total project costs can be up to £300k for early-stage awards, up to £3m for mid-stage awards, and up to £10m for late-stage awards.

Please note that there will be a briefing by webinar on Monday, 10 November 2014 from 13.30-15.30 for those wishing to find out more about Round 2 of the Energy Catalyst. This will include information on the scope, funding and the application process.

For more information please go here. The closing date is the 11th February 2015.

 

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Visit the funding webpage for more opportunities and if you hear of any funding opportunities, please let me know.

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Events and Conferences

Katsuhiko Hirose, Project General Manager, Toyota on Hybrid, PHV and Fuel cells: Toyota's future mobility towards sustainable society

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Wed 22 October 2014 23:59 BST - (20 Reads)

22 October 2014, Imperial College

Website

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Launch of Solar Energy Systems Special Interest Group (SESSIG)

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Tue 28 October 2014 23:59 GMT - (20 Reads)

28 October 2014, Birmingham

Website

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Consortia Building Workshop: In-Stream Tidal Energy

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Wed 05 November 2014 23:59 GMT - (20 Reads)

5 November 2014, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Website

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2nd international Conference on Urban Sustainability and Resilience

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Wed 05 November 2014 23:59 GMT - (22 Reads)

3-5 November 2014, UCL

Website

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Disruptive Innovation Festival

Published At: Fri 17 October 2014 09:00 BST - Expires At: Fri 14 November 2014 23:59 GMT - (22 Reads)

 

20 October-14 November 2014, various locations

Website

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Visit the events webpage for more opportunities and if you would like to advertise an event please let me know.

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NERN Blog

Solar-powered flying skateboards: Central to your typical 8-year-old's vision of a climate-friendly future, but, alas, destined only for the world of science fiction.

But all is not lost. Many other forms of energy technology innovation lie squarely within the realms of science. And scientists working on how to address climate change see innovation as key to addressing climate change.

The question is how do we innovate successfully? The history of energy innovation is littered with over-exuberance, pipe dreams, and white elephants. But it's also marked by striking successes, such as the world-leading Danish wind power and Brazilian ethanol industries, or the energy efficiency of Japanese consumer products.

Our new book scours the pages of history to work out what has distinguished past successes from failures. We cast a critical eye on twenty varied innovation histories of energy technologies, from large to small, old to new, and supply to end-use. We are interested both in the technologies that now dominate our landscape as well as technologies that have faded from public view.

Our motivation for the book was to find out: how can we innovate successfully to address climate change? We don't come up with all the answers, but we do think we can point the way.

A systemic perspective on energy technology innovation

Successful innovation is like a puzzle: you need all the pieces to see the whole picture. But history shows us that innovation policy, research, analysis, and market activity have too frequently focused on a particular piece of the puzzle.

Research and development (R&D) is a good example. Energy-related R&D activities are dominated by private firms. But governments play a crucial role in supporting and investing in R&D with less immediate prospects and less certain pay-offs. When we looked at the history of R&D, we found that public R&D efforts often targeted early and rapid upscaling of promising new technologies. This was particularly the case for energy supply technologies, including wind turbines, solar thermal plants , synthetic fuels, and nuclear power.

Building big can help reduce costs. But cost reductions from upscaling are by no means guaranteed. They depend on all sorts of other things: experimentation and testing, often for prolonged periods; entrepreneurs trying out applications in different market niches; early adopters demonstrating its advantages; underlying investments in skills, training, and human capital; shared expectations around a technology's prospects; mechanisms to share and exchange knowledge about what works; a consistent market environment without cyclical or stop-start activity that leads to turnover in workforces and the loss of acquired knowledge.

These are just some of the other pieces of the puzzle, elements of the broader innovation system. The cost reductions sought by policymakers and technology developers may be the corner piece that holds the rest together. But it doesn't make a picture on its own.

This is why advocates of an Apollo program or Manhattan project for low-carbon technologies are wrong. These historical examples of singular science-led R&D programs are poor analogues for what's needed in today’s energy market environment, with discerning consumers, profit-seeking developers, and cash-poor governments.

We need silver buckshot not silver bullets, diverse portfolios of options not one-shot, large-scale panaceas. Diversity means entrepreneurialism, risk-taking, variety, and experimentation in technology development, learning processes to sustain performance improvements through market deployment, and support for and protection of niche markets by public policy. More and more pieces of the puzzle.

Learning from history

Our book identifies the hallmarks of historical innovation successes and sets out how we can apply these lessons towards a low-carbon future. We put the puzzle together to reveal the picture of a comprehensive yet simple framework for analyzing energy technology innovation.

An innovation systems perspective makes transparently clear that successful innovation is founded on effectively functioning innovation systems. An inter-dependent mesh of knowledge, institutions, use, and resources that cohere to support new technologies through development and out into the market. With a critical role for consistent, continuous and aligned policy support for all the elements of the energy system.

That corner piece? Well, it's an important piece of the puzzle ... but it's only a piece.

The book 'Energy Technology Innovation: Learning from Historical Successes and Failures' is edited by Arnulf Grubler and Charlie Wilson, and published by Cambridge University Press.

Contact: charlie.wilson@uea.ac.uk or grubler@iiasa.ac.at for more details.

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