UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


Resources and Vectors Theme, UKERC Phase 3

Twilight Pylon

UCL ISR leads the Resources and Vectors Theme of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC)’s third phase, which explores a number of energy-related topics such as the recently published UKERC report on the role of gas as a bridge in the UK.

This theme will explore the current and future roles of different resources and energy vectors in the UK energy system. Its scope includes renewable and non-renewable resources: fossil fuels, critical materials and renewable resources such as bio-energy. It also includes current energy vectors (i.e. electricity, heat and liquid fuels) and how these might change in future (e.g. to include hydrogen).

It will include energy system modelling, assessments of the energy, material and water resources required for energy systems, and their ecosystem impacts, research on the political economy of international resource flows and economic, engineering and policy assessments of the interactions, synergies and trade-offs between the large-scale deployment of electricity, hydrogen and heat. Explicit attention will also be paid to the social and environmental dimensions and implications of different energy system configurations.

Ongoing work in the various sub-themes includes:

Oil and gas futures

The overarching aim of this project is to examine possible futures for oil and gas at a UK, European, and global level. This work is exploring five specific areas of interest.

  1. The first area involves the quantitative examination of the role that gas could play as a ‘transition fuel’ in helping to decarbonise the UK energy system.  This work is using the recently-developed UKTM-UCL energy system model to examine changes in both the production and consumption of gas in the UK under different scenarios.
  2. The second area involves the development of qualitative and quantitative scenarios for future gas markets. This work, which is being undertaken in conjunction with Professor Mike Bradshaw at the University of Warwick, will develop analysis of gas markets for four ‘case studies’ that are of current topical interest: the abundance of unconventional oil and gas resources calling into question further resource exploration and development (particularly those conventional resources found in extreme locations); the role of gas in China; the geo-political implications of geographically diversifying sources of production; and the future of LNG markets, given the ability of LNG to assist in the decarbonisation of some regions and as a mechanism by which a global gas price could form.
  3. The aim of area three is to provide additional quantitative insights on gas markets, which is the subject of a new UKERC PhD, starting in September 2015. The work will construct a geographically-detailed and economically and geologically-rich model of the gas markets.
  4. The fourth area focuses on the future for tight oil production globally. Production of tight oil has mirrored the rapid rise in shale gas production in North America and has already had huge implications for global oil markets. However, despite much interest in developing new sources of tight oil, its future outside of North America remains uncertain. Indeed past projections (from the IEA and EIA for example) have tended to underestimate significantly the rate at which tight oil production has actually grown. This activity therefore aims to add a module to the existing bottom-up economic and geological oil field production model (called BUEGO) that permits examining possible pathways for the global development of tight oil.
  5. The fifth topic aims to increase understanding of how reserves and resources of fossil fuels, materials and bioenergy can be reported consistently and what uncertainties exist in trying to do so. 
Energy and Economy

The aim of the project is to understand further the relationship between energy use and its effects on the macro-economy and vice-versa. The work is mainly focusing on the effects of different energy pathways on the UK economy, including under both high and low renewables deployment and with prices reflecting different levels of taxes on carbon and other resources. Carried out in cooperation with research under the Energy, Economy and Societal Preferencesprogramme being undertaken at the University of Leeds, and providing opportunities for significant data sharing between the two institutions, the activity at UCL will involve modelling of the energy-economy interaction in two ways.

  1. Firstly, the development of a MACRO Stand-Alone module and its incorporation into the UCL UK (UKTM-UCL) and global TIMES (TIAM-UCL) models means that insights can now be generated into the GDP implications of different energy scenarios. The models will explore the economic consequences for the UK of several energy pathways being developed elsewhere in UKERC, in particular considering the implications of reduced energy demand by the UK. The work will also consider the regional economic effects delayed action on climate change.
  2. Secondly, a UK Computable General Equilibrium model (CGE) (RESCU) is being developed which incorporates energy, water, land and resources into its framework. By soft-linking the CGE model, incorporating extensive representation of different resources, with the TIMES energy systems model, it is intended to create by the end of the programme a state-of-the-art hybrid energy modelling tool for exploration of a wide range of ‘nexus’ (energy-land-water-food-climate) issues. 
Energy and Networks

The experience of Germany suggests that the integration of large amounts of inflexible nuclear baseload generation and/or intermittent renewable generation into the energy system will rapidly become a key issue for the UK. Incidents of renewable supply exceeding demand are rare at present but could rapidly become commonplace. If heat is electrified then peak power flows would greatly increase. Options for coping with the greater demands include reinforcing the transmission infrastructure, building super and/or smart grids, deploying energy storage and creating demand-side management. This project focuses on three energy vectors – electricity, heat and hydrogen – that could have an important role in balancing renewable generation in the future. In contrast to most studies, which tend to examine these vectors in isolation, this project is taking a broader approach that could identify lower-cost pathways that might, for example, use excess renewable electricity to produce stored heat or hydrogen that is stored in the gas networks.

This project is investigating the interactions, synergies and potential conflicts between the large-scale deployment, at different scales, of electricity, hydrogen and heat, especially in respect of the different infrastructures that they require. In close collaboration with the Energy Systems at Multiple Scales programme, the research will undertake engineering and techno-economic analysis of energy vectors, and the technologies and infrastructures that generate and transport them, and will incorporate this analysis in a spatially and temporally-explicit way into energy systems models (including at the European [ETM-UCL] and UK [UKTM-UCL] levels).  This sub-theme is closely linked to the recently started EPSRC Realising Energy Storage Technologies in Low-carbon Energy Systems (RESTLESS) project, which is led by UCL and includes collaborators from the Energy Systems at Multiple Scales programme.

Energy system resource use and impacts on ecosystems

The overarching aim of this project is to assess and improve existing practice of quantifying the impact of resources (e.g. fossil fuels, materials and bioenergy) on the environment. The work is examining two specific areas of interest.

  1. The first area involves collaboration with the economic work being undertaken under the Energy and Economyproject, and ecosystem scientists at the University of Southampton, to quantity the implications for water use and ecosystems of different energy system developments. Initial work is assessing the possibility of linking the WATER-GAP model to TIAM-UCL, and working to incorporate in the modelling the insights from the recently completed SPLiCE (Sustainable Pathways to Low-Carbon Energy) project, which was funded by Defra.
  2. The second area aims to analyse how methods for resource estimation and assessment of impacts of resource consumption activities can be developed and deployed to provide relevant information for investors and policy makers. This work will liaise with the recently awarded (NERC-funded) ADVENT (Addressing Valuation of Energy and Nature Together) and other initiatives related to complexity in the ‘nexus’.

Project team: 
Prof Paul Ekins
Paul Dodds
Paolo Agnolucci
Matthew Winning
Oliver Broad 

energy modelling sustainability