UCL Energy Institute


Critical mid-term uncertainties in long-term decarbonisation pathways


1 February 2012

Over the next decade, large energy investments are required in the UK to meet growing energy service demands and legally binding emission targets under a pioneering policy agenda. These are necessary despite deep mid-term (2025-2030) uncertainties over which national policy makers have little control. We investigate the effect of two critical mid-term uncertainties on optimal near-term investment decisions using a two-stage stochastic energy system model. The results show that where future fossil fuel prices are uncertain: (i) the near term hedging strategy to 2030 differs from any one deterministic fuel price scenario and is structurally dissimilar to a simple 'average' of the deterministic scenarios, and (ii) multiple recourse strategies from 2030 are perturbed by path dependencies caused by hedging investments. Evaluating the uncertainty under a decarbonisation agenda shows that fossil fuel price uncertainty is very expensive at around £20 billion. The addition of novel mitigation options reduces the value of fossil fuel price uncertainty to £11 billion. Uncertain biomass import availability shows a much lower value of uncertainty at £300 million. This paper reveals the complex relationship between the flexibility of the energy system and mitigating the costs of uncertainty due to the path-dependencies caused by the long-life times of both infrastructures and generation technologies. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

Critical mid-term uncertainties in long-term decarbonisation pathways. Energy Policy, 41 433-444. 

Usher, W., Strachan, N. (2012)