UCL Energy Institute


Energy and Development Group Research Themes

The UCL energy and development group’s research interests cover eight multi-disciplinary themes addressing energy consumption, access and supply across the Global South.

connected circles reading: governance; technology & innovation; energy systems; people, everyday life and communities, natural resources nexus, built environment, infrastructure, economics and finance; and governance

A central challenge for global energy governance is to manage a complex ‘energy trilemma’ which involves the interconnected but often competing demands of energy security, climate change, and energy poverty. Under this theme, we aim to understand how energy systems are governed at local, national, regional and transnational levels, by whom and with what consequences. Such understandings are crucial for assessing and enhancing the effectiveness of existing policy, governance and institutional frameworks in the implementation of SDG7. Work in this area include:
•    Energy system transitions in Ethiopia
•    Decentralised energy networks in Myanmar
•    Deep decarbonisation pathways in Latin America 

Researchers: Alexandra SchneidersYacob MulugettaMeron TesfamichaelBen MilliganJulia Tomei and Xavier Lemaire.

Technology & Innovation

Innovation in clean energy technologies remains vital to addressing the challenge of increasing energy access in the context of sustainable economic development. This includes improved energy efficiency for both on- and off-grid solutions, energy storage, grid modernisation and cleaner cooking. This is not only a question of deploying cleaner technologies and bringing down their costs – it also requires the development of the capabilities, organisations and systems for innovation within developing countries. Technological advances and innovative approaches to energy access will play a key role in the achievement of many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals – not just Goal 7. This has been demonstrated by the Energy and Development Group in its work on mapping of synergies and trade-offs between energy and the SDGs. The Group’s efforts further support the transformation of the energy sector by providing evidence about policies, institutions, business models and other changes that can support innovation in cleaner technologies – and a move away from fossil energy-based systems.

Researchers: Jim WatsonXavier LemaireAlexandra Schneiders and Iwona Bisaga.

Energy Systems

One of the key problems facing policy and decision makers is how to best to manage the transitions from traditional energy systems to clean alternatives while accounting for the local context in an ever more global world. Understanding trade-offs in transition pathways is important. When considering energy and Within the development, context these transition pathways often involve dealing with the question of trade-offs between energy access vs. economic/, environmental, and other impacts implications.
The team has extensive experience working from a wholesystem perspective and has advised a range of stakeholders, including within developing countries. Our models cover the full pathway of energy supply, conversion and end-use, and can be tailored to specific policy and country needs. Members of the group work on high profile models such as UK-TIMES and OSeMOSYS, and have received grants for projects including wholeSEM and successive phases of UKERC .

Researchers: Iwona BisagaCatalina SpataruGabrial AnandarajahYacob Mulugetta, Isabela ButnarJim WatsonOliver Broad, Priti Parikh and Jen Cronin.

People, Every Day Life and Communities

SDG7.1 aims to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services to all by 2030. Addressing the energy poverty challenge will require concerted effort if the needs of the 1 billion people without access to electricity, and the 2.7 billion who rely on traditional biomass for cooking are to be met. This means going beyond purely technological solutions to also consider the needs, opportunities and aspirations of people and their communities. This theme focuses on the complex ways in which end users’ decision-making, values, behaviours and aspirations affects energy access and use in developing countries. It also aims to understand the differentiated impacts of energy access and poverty on women and other marginalised groups. Work under this theme includes:
•    Energy provision in slum communities in India
•    Unlocking the potential of modern energy cooking services in Ethiopia and Uganda
•    The social and economic impacts of solar home systems in Rwanda
•    Energy and gender in Mexico and the UK   
•    Community energy demand and management in Medellin, Colombia.

Researchers: Iwona BisagaAlexandra SchneidersVivien KizilcecYacob MulugettaMeron TesfamichaelJulia TomeiXavier Lemaire, Kathryn JandaPriti Parikh and Elusiyan Eludoyin.

Natural Resources Nexus

Resource Nexus (water-energy-land-food-materials) research and its integrated dynamic models - IDA3&IDA5-  are emerging as powerful tools to analyse trade-offs between resources, offering detailed insights into potential problems under different climate scenarios (e.g. scarcity problems as the demand for water, energy and food is expected to rise; draughts and impacts on electricity production and expansion of hydropower plants; trade-offs between water use for consumers, power production and agriculture; etc). It has the capability to assess the impact of potential intervention strategies across resources.

The model allows the subdivision of the study area into sub-areas using a pyramid structure, where representation at different levels can be made (e.g. National, local, regional level). Is designed to assess the impacts of power generation on land and water resources and the energy requirements for water services. Since water, energy and land feature as priority areas in the SDGs agenda, it is important to understand the dynamic interactions occurring among systems to better understand the key vulnerabilities and risks facing developing countries in terms of nexus security and sustainability.

Researchers: Catalina Spataru, Gabrial Anandarajah, Yacob MulugettaBen Milligan and Xavier Lemaire.

Built Environment

90% of world’s urban population growth is expected to occur in the developing world, with Africa and South Asia the fastest growing continents.  As the world continues to urbanise, it will become increasingly important to successfully manage this process and to ensure that the benefits of urbanisation are shared, and the impacts minimised. Cities consume around 75% of global primary energy, rising to 80% when the indirect emissions generated by urban inhabitants are included

Buildings also require large amounts of energy and urban form is a key factor affecting energy efficiency. The scale and complexity of modern cities drives a need for approaches and tools which can assist policy makers and urban planners with the challenges of both understanding the current context and exploring potential future developments.

Researchers: Pamela Fennell and Kathryn Janda.


Low and middle-income countries require a step-increase in infrastructure to accelerate growth and development. Smart grids, micro grids, high integration of renewables in power grids in various regions are some of the solutions to foster development. Key sustainable development lies in the methods of energy development, regional integration by interconnection, systematic solutions and roadmaps to sustain strategic planning, economic and technological implementation. The scale and complexity of electricity grids drive a need for approaches and new mathematical tools for forecasting hourly demand to help capacity planners in optimizing investment options and ensuring reliable electricity supply. 

Researchers: Catalina Spataru and Xavier Lemaire.

Economics & Finance

Access to finance is one of the key barriers to low carbon energy system development especially for renewable energy technology investment. The group looks into access to low cost finance can make renewables more attractive. It looks at various scenarios and policies which can ease these barriers and promote investment, creating models which investigate the effect of market confidence, interest rates and cost of capital. Most recently for the Horizon 2020 project COP21-RIPPLES, a major international research collaboration to understand the implications and facilitate the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement, develop various scenarios that looks at low cost financing available for developing countries.

Researchers: Gabrial Anandarajah, Muez Ali,