Net zero, the target of reducing our emissions by 100% by the year 2050, is a movement which most people know about and support. In a recent government survey, 87% of people had heard of net zero, and 83% reported climate change as a concern. Net zero can be accomplished by reducing our emissions into the atmosphere and increasing the amount of carbon we remove from the atmosphere (Carbon capture), so that they balance out. This process is called decarbonisation. For net zero to be a success, we must decarbonise our energy production, our buildings, our heating, and our transport. Whilst this sounds simple, in practice it is very tricky, as nearly everything we do as a species releases carbon. The average person in the UK has a carbon footprint of about 10 tonnes, meaning that the UK releases around 66 million tonnes of Carbon into the atmosphere every year! If you’re interested in learning more about your carbon footprint and ways to reduce it, check out the WWF Carbon footprint calculator.
How we move to net zero is going to affect people’s lives a lot. Whilst most of the public knows what net zero is and are supportive, less is known about the details. In fact, in the same government survey, only 9% of people said they knew a lot about the topic. This is a problem, as for net zero to be a success, people need to know about it and buy into the mission. Recent events such as the COP 26 meeting in Glasgow has given the movement more publicity. In another survey conducted in November 2021 by the research agency IPSOS, pollution and climate change were found to be Britain’s highest concern, across a range of demographics. However, other issues such as lack of faith in politicians and the economy have since overtaken them. Whilst these are important, we can’t stop thinking about our 2050 target – its only possible if we make radical change now.
To learn more about the public’s opinions and knowledge on net zero, academics here at Newcastle University recently issued a survey to 830 participants. They made sure that the people used in the survey reflected the general population, or a representative sample. A table showing a breakdown of the sample is found below:
The participants were then asked a series of questions about net zero, as well as some questions about themselves in general. The personal questions allow researchers to investigate whether people of different demographics have different views or levels of knowledge about net zero, which is important as everyone needs to be involved.
7% of people rated their understanding of net zero as 5 or lower out of 10. Only 16% ranked themselves 8 or above.
85% of people scored how well the government had informed them about net zero as 5 or lower out of 10.
8% of people rated the need for net zero at 10
Acceptance of net zero is higher than understanding
84% of participants agreed that there is a need to change both the electrical and gas networks.
75% strongly agreed that we need to change how we generate electricity
53% said we must eliminate fossil fuels. The rest said we should reduce our use of them.
35% of people thought that net zero would affect their transport habits. The rest did not or were unsure.
Participants believe everyone should be involved in making changes, but that the most important changes rested with government and energy producers/generators.
70% thought that net zero would change their life at least slightly,
What does this tell us?
Firstly, the survey suggests that the general public are more clued up on net zero than the investigators thought! It was particularly good to see that knowledge of net zero is relatively consistent across different demographics.
The findings of the survey support the idea that most of the public is behind the net zero goal, especially the mission to phase out fossil fuels. It also highlights that people think most important decisions and behaviour change need to come from government and the energy producers/generators themselves, even though everyone has a part to play. This is called a top-down approach. The findings also highlight that the government and energy companies can do more to educate people about how the journey to net zero will affect everyone. However, it also shows that most people recognise that net zero is everyone’s responsibility, which is fantastic ! If us, the public, can show government and energy companies that net zero is something that we feel passionately about, then we can move towards a greener, more sustainable future together.
Richard Afriyie Oduro is a Research Fellow at the University of Leeds who is jointly appointed by the School of Earth and Environment (SEE), and the School of Chemical and Process Engineering (SCAPE). Richard is working on the policy and society work package of the Supergen Energy Networks Hub’s project on Multi-Vector Energy Networks (MVEN).
Supergen Energy Networks Hub visit to Accra, Ghana (7 – 8th July 2022)
The Supergen Energy Networks Hub (SEN) and Ghana Energy Networks (GEN) (SEN-GEN) workshop, held on the 7-8 July 2022 gathered thirty-one (31) academic and industry stakeholders in the energy network area from the UK and Ghana. The purpose was to promote GEN as a Hub that focuses on energy networks research in Ghana, as well as to formally launch the SEN-GEN collaboration, which was initiated in March 2020, but for which in-person activities had been delayed by the COVID pandemic.
The workshop was designed to encourage greater interactions and collaborations between partners from electricity distribution, transmission, mini-grid operations and development firms, as well as researchers from Ghana and the UK.
Feedback from participants at the workshop was incredibly positive. The workshop met their expectations, and participants would like the SEN-GEN collaboration to grow to provide a bigger platform to facilitate more interactions between industry and academia.
Background of SEN-GEN Collaborations
Ghana Energy Networks (GEN) is an entity formed by the Regional Centre of Excellence in Energy and Sustainability (RCEES) at the University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR) and The Brew Hammond Energy Centre (TBHEC) at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) to focus on energy network infrastructure research across areas such as modelling, regulation and markets, policy, and risk. The Supergen Energy Networks (SEN) Hub is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and is led by six (6) UK universities including Leeds, Bristol, Newcastle, Bath, Cardiff, and Manchester. The focus is on energy network infrastructure research across vectors including electricity, natural gas, heating and cooling, and hydrogen. The SEN Hub explores how an understanding of the interdependencies and interactions between different energy networks can deal with the challenges that they face.
Stakeholders participating in the workshop were drawn from across the energy networks area including regulators, policymakers, electricity distribution companies, electricity transmission companies, mini-grid developers and operators. Other stakeholders included academic institutions and consultancies working on energy networks. Apart from the main collaborators, the organisations that participated included Energy Commission, Ministry of Energy, Northern Electricity Distribution Company, Electricity Company of Ghana, Volta River Authority, Bui Power Authority, and Ghana Grid Company. There were also participants from University of Mines and Technology, Morks Reid Global, and Deloitte.
The agenda on the first day covered six areas: a welcome address and background to the SEN-GEN collaboration; overview of the UK and Ghana energy systems; the operation of the energy networks market and regulation in the two countries; networks and data disaggregation; Ghana’s energy transition agenda; and a discussion session on potential areas for future collaboration. The second day focused on energy network management, climate change and energy networks, two demonstration projects, and another discussion session on potential research areas.
Colleagues from the UK spoke on UK energy networks challenges and responses, markets and regulation, data disaggregation, and on the impact of climate change on energy network infrastructure.
Our partners from Ghana gave talks on Ghana’s energy sector, technical regulation of energy networks, electricity distribution in low-income areas, mini-grid developments and operations in island communities, and on Ghana’s energy transition plan.
The workshop concluded with discussions on next steps and collaboration opportunities between Supergen Energy Networks (SEN) and Ghana Energy Networks (GEN).
A list of short-term and medium-long term research areas were developed, including writing a review and journal paper as well as a report highlighting challenges and opportunities of Energy Networks in Ghana and the possibility to support Early Career Researchers with a 6-month secondment to SEN.
An Industry Advisory Committee (IAC) was also formed to support and review the activities of GEN which will feed into the SEN IAC based in the UK.
Feedback to BEIS Panel of Technical Experts on interconnector modelling in the 2021 Electricity Capacity Report
Dr Matthew Deakin, Dr Hannah Bloomfield
National Grid Electricity System Operator (NGESO) recently requested feedback from the community on their Summary Briefing Note, “Modelling de-rating factors for interconnected countries in the 2021 Electricity Capacity Report”. The severe Texas blackouts this winter have brought the issue of resource adequacy sharply into focus, with technical developments in European capacity markets via the European Resource Adequacy Assessment (ERAA) ongoing to ensure market-based solutions can provide energy system resilience as countries transition to net-zero.
Supergen Energy Networks (SEN) responded to NGESO’s call for feedback last year. We discussed how bidirectional flows from interconnectors mean that the marginal value of increased interconnection for individual countries can be both positive and negative with respect to resilience (particularly when the stress periods of multiple countries coincide), in contrast to conventional generation assets which always improve resilience. This year, NGESO have specifically requested feedback on the scenarios they are developing for interconnected countries, used to inform sensitivity analysis which identify a range of de-rating factors for new and existing interconnectors. Ultimately, de-rating factors are then used by the Secretary of State to determine the capacity volumes that interconnectors can bid into the capacity market.
How are Scenarios used in the GB Capacity Market?
Capacity markets are designed to provide a price signal to incentivise investment in generation to provide resilience, explicitly taking into account uncertainties in supply and demand. On the supply side, these uncertainties include the closing date of generators close to the end of their life, the commissioning dates of new assets, or even the availability of network infrastructure such as subsea cables. On the demand side, the uptake of new technologies mean that both peak and average GB demand changes from year to year, whilst nascent Demand Side Response technologies can also address tight margins, as they have done in GB for many years under the guise of ‘Triad avoidance’. Additionally, as we discuss in this note, both supply and demand are sensitive to climate variability and climate change, due to the weather sensitivity of renewables and demand.
The GB Capacity Market uses the “Least Worst Regret” approach to determine the required Capacity to Secure under these uncertainties (the Capacity to Secure subsequently determines how much generating capacity is procured for future winters). This approach evaluates the capacity that would be required to meet demand under a wide range of credible scenarios. The overall target Capacity to Secure is then calculated that will minimise the cost of generation overspend (based on the costs of building new generation) against the societal costs of controlled demand disconnection (based on the value of lost load) so that the target demand for the capacity market will minimise the potential ‘regret’ of overspend.
How could Climate Change Variability affect these Scenarios?
The scenarios that are selected for modelling are overlaid on top of a central scenario, representing a best guess of the state of the future system in between one- and five-years’ time, using nominal uncertainties on both the supply and demand side (Figure 1). One source of uncertainty here is the weather. To account for this, 30-40 years of historical weather data would typically be used to model a wide range of possible outputs from weather-dependent renewables in this central scenario, rather than selecting a year with particularly poor weather (which is typically included instead as an individual scenario). Similarly, as demand is strongly dependent on temperature (Figure 2) due to electric heating loads, the distribution of daily peak demand can also be ‘hindcast’ using 30-40 years of historic temperature.
There are therefore two ways that climate variability and climate change can impact on the scenarios used in the capacity market. Firstly, as the 30-40 year period used in historical assessment is relatively short, it may therefore be that as-yet unseen weather conditions, simulated in climate models, may need to be considered to adequately study possible risks of shortfalls. Additionally, long-term climate variability can also lead to the likelihood of adverse conditions being much greater in a given decade. Plausible scenarios modelling challenging weather years may need to be synthesised to model periods with higher demands and lower wind generation than exists in the historic record.
Additionally, it could be that the modelling of the Central scenario, based on the long-term climate, will also be impacted by climate change. This could affect the Capacity to Secure calculations of all scenarios (except those scenarios focusing on specific weather conditions). For example, there is a clear warming trend in historic temperature data over France since 1980 (Figure 3a), such that if the temperature is corrected to account for this, the modelled northwest European temperature would rise close to 1°C. Although the change in mean temperature is relatively small, the shift in the temperature distribution (Figure 3b) means that the likelihood of cold temperatures can be affected significantly. For example, the likelihood of the mean daily temperature of France being below freezing reduces from 12.2% to 6.5%.
Physically, this de-trending of temperatures is meaningful as circulation in the atmosphere (driving weather fronts and wind) is thought to only be weakly dependent on the background temperature. Milder temperatures lead to reduced peak demands and therefore reduced requirements for expensive peaking capacity.
What was the feedback we provided to BEIS Panel of Technical Experts?
Given the sensitivity of peak demand to temperature shown in Figure 2, a 1°C increase in winter temperatures would lead to a reduction in the required capacity of around 500 MW in GB, or more than 2000 MW in France. The costs of providing this capacity are not inconsequential – for example, at a cost of new entry of £49/kW used in the GB capacity market, a 500 MW overestimation in the capacity required leads to an increase in costs of £24.5m per year. It is worth noting however, that this could also lead to a slight reduction in the likelihood of shortfalls.
In our feedback we took the view that the scenarios that NGESO have discussed around the modelling of interconnectors (including concerns around early closure of Coal and Nuclear plants in mainland Europe) are well justified. However, we also suggest that accounting for long-term climate change can and will have an impact on calculations of target Capacity to Secure. The de-trending of temperature is a relatively minor technical fix that could avoid costly over-procurement in the long run. Incorporating as-yet unseen, severe winter events is also a possibility by making use of longer-periods of historical data (including appropriate detrending) or output from climate model simulations. Ongoing work as part of the CLEARHEADS project will be further exploring these areas, and will be providing open-access suitable de-trended data. This will give energy modelers easy access to the data required to study the impacts of climate change on a wide variety of problems beyond the capacity adequacy issues discussed here.
Conclusions and future challenges
Systemic changes in climatic conditions will change the risk profile of energy systems heading toward net-zero, particularly in view of rapid increases in renewable capacity and electrification of heating demands in winter-peaking systems. Understanding both the severity and coincidence of system stress is necessary for an accurate determination of the value of interconnection for providing resilience.
The provision of secure, cost-effective and low-carbon energy will result in energy systems becoming increasingly weather dependent. We conclude that energy modelers will therefore need to become highly skilled in the handling and analysis of significant quantities of climate and weather data, used across a wide range of scales and contexts, to effectively address whole energy system design challenges on the path to net zero.
The feedback is available to view and was written with contributions from Dr David Greenwood, Dr Susan Scholes, Dr David Brayshaw and Professor Furong Li. The authors are also grateful for feedback from industrial advisor to the project, Dr Chris Harris. Matt and Hannah are support by the Supergen Energy Networks CLEARHEADS Flex Fund project, led by the University of Reading. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
About the authors
Dr Matthew Deakin is a postdoctoral Research Associate at Newcastle University with the Power Systems group. His research interests include whole energy systems analysis, power system planning and operations, and smart grids.
Dr Hannah Bloomfield is a post doctoral Research currently working in the University of Reading meteorology department. Her research focuses on understanding natural and societal challenges to present and near-future energy systems. Her past work focused on the impacts of climate variability and climate change on international power systems including large proportions of renewables.