Research at the University of Exeter has helped improve energy sustainability, security and affordability. The Energy Policy Group (EPG) has focused on energy policy development and regulatory and market reform.
Energy policy is an important issue due to agendas to reduce CO2 emissions to meet climate change targets. Rising fossil fuel prices and domestic energy bills, affordability issues, and a national/EU need to ensure energy security are also drivers.
Professor Catherine Mitchell, the Group’s lead academic, was an author for the last two United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. The Geography Department's Professor was a Coordinating Lead Author of the 2011 report on renewable energy sources and climate change mitigation. She was Lead Author in the 2014 IPCC Working Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) on Climate Change Mitigation.
Her work was covered in the policy chapter of both reports. The former explained which renewable energy policies are available and which proportion of global energy demand renewable energy can provide. These findings fed into the latter report which explained to decision-makers which policies they can use to mitigate climate change. These include the transformation to sustainable energy using renewable energy.
Both reports received international news coverage. They concluded renewables could supply almost 80 per cent of the world’s energy by the mid-twenty-first century if the right policies are used.
Professor Mitchell said: “The energy we use in our everyday lives contributes a great deal to greenhouse gas emissions – in the UK it contributes about 85 per cent of our CO2 emissions. This report makes it clear that renewable energy is a viable option, but only if it is supported by policies which encourage investment in the technologies needed.”
Great Britain has been undergoing Electricity Market Reform (EMR) since 2010. This is partly because of changes to energy policy at the European level. Another reason is the needs of transforming the energy system from its current ‘dirty’ characteristics to ‘clean’ ones. The Group have been involved in debates about policy and governance reforms to enable this sustainable transition.
Professor Mitchell provided oral and written evidence to several Energy and Climate Change Select Committee reports about EMR and its attendant Energy Bills. She also gave evidence to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) for its own inquiry into EMR.
Professor Mitchell was one of only three UK academics to give oral evidence to the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee as part of the pre-legislative scrutiny of the ‘Draft Energy Bill’. She was one of only two academics who gave oral evidence to the Scrutiny Committee for the Energy Bill in January 2013.
A major research focus within the EPG since 2007 has been around the mechanisms and processes necessary to create a sustainable UK energy economy. This included work on future technology pathways and the effectiveness of UK Government policy with respect to energy sector design and regulation.
Professor Mitchell wrote a book in 2010 which outlined the barriers to development of a sustainable energy economy. She criticised the existing political pattern and governance processes that rely on narrow market and economic analyses for policy development. She argued that transparent decision-making processes and inclusive incentives would encourage innovation.
EPG research also emphasised the need for government to recognise the complexity of the UK energy system and to develop policies which consider a broader range of economic, political, technological, institutional, and social factors. The Engineering and Physical Sciences are supporting this research through the project Innovation and Governance for a Sustainable Economy.
The EPG also run the Research Councils UK research cluster for energy security in a multipolar world, which worked with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the DECC. The cluster is ongoing with more than 700 members, and had around 1,000 attendees at 27 meetings. These linked the British geopolitical, supply chain, and low carbon academic and practitioner worlds in a completely unprecedented manner in Great Britain.
The Group’s research also informs and affects public debate. Professor Mitchell has written several articles for the Guardian. The group’s work has been featured on the BBC website, in numerous newspaper reports, such as the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mirror, as well as various radio features such as BBC Radio 4 and the World Service. The EPG and IGov both have blogs which receive 1,000s of hits a month, and have more than 600 followers signed up to Twitter.
EPG members regularly give talks to bodies across the energy spectrum in GB, including the Energy Institute and British Institute of Energy Economics. They continue to give evidence to Select Committees and other bodies such as the Competition and Mergers Authority.
The Group occasionally undertakes commissioned work if it fits with its wider research interests. An example of this was when Which? commissioned Professor Mitchell to produce a report to provide background for their energy affordability campaign.
EPG academics have also provided reports for bodies across the energy spectrum including charity Greenpeace and international affairs think tank Chatham House; or had their work used in other reports, for example utilities company Scottish and Southern Electricity (SSE), which referenced EPG in their Energy White Paper submission, which fed into the DECC’s Planning our electric future paper.
The group have attracted more than £2million in research funding since 2009.