What is it about?

A large interdisciplinary consortium of engineers, social scientists and policy analysts have developed three low carbon, more electric transition pathways for the United Kingdom (UK): described as ‘Market Rules’ (MR), ‘Central Co-ordination’ (CC) and ‘Thousand Flowers’ (TF) respectively. It adapts an approach based on earlier work on understanding transitions, using a multi-level perspective with landscape, regime and niche levels, and its application to the development of ‘socio-technical scenarios’. These pathways to 2050 focus on the power sector, including the potential for increasing use of low carbon electricity for heating and transport. This paper describes studies of historical energy and infrastructure transitions are described that help the understanding of the dynamics and timing of past transitions. The role of large-scale and small-scale ‘actors’ in the electricity sector and the methods used to develop the pathways are then described.

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Why is it important?

The present UK transition pathways are used to highlight the fact that significantly different technological pathways to a low carbon electricity system in the UK by 2050 are possible, although any of these pathways will be challenging to realise. They imply differing levels of efforts and different patterns of risks and uncertainties and approaches to the system’s governance. Each exhibits challenges in relation to energy efficiency and behavioural changes, as well as technology choices and their rate of deployment. The way in which these are addressed and resolved will depend on the governance arrangements of the low carbon transition, including policy measures and regulatory frameworks. So the roles and choices of market, government, and civil society actors are crucial to realising any of these pathways.

Perspectives

These findings stem from research by a large consortium of nine university partners was originally funded via the strategic partnership between e.on UK (the electricity generator) and the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to study the role of electricity within the context of ‘Transition Pathways to a Low Carbon Economy’ (2008-12), and then renewed with funding solely from the EPSRC under the title ‘Realising Transition Pathways: Whole Systems Analysis for a UK More Electric Low Carbon Energy Future’ (RTP) (2012-16). The present paper examined the most recent version 2.1 (v2.1) of the pathway narratives: driven by the market (MR), central government intervention (CC), and civil society (TF) (e.g., local communities and non-governmental organisations [NGOs]) initiatives. This emphasis on ‘governance’ as a prime mover of market development is a novel feature in terms of energy futures research in Britain.

Professor Emeritus Geoffrey P Hammond
University of Bath

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This page is a summary of: Socio-technical transitions in UK electricity: part 1 – history, actors and pathways, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Energy, January 2020, ICE Publishing, DOI: 10.1680/jener.19.00051.
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