Towards a Sustainable Energy Economy - UK Energy Research Centre (TSEC-UKERC)

Programme overview

Investigating reliable, diverse, affordable, publicly acceptable and safe ways to supply energy.

The world's demand for energy is increasing. The challenge for the Towards a Sustainable Energy Economy (TSEC) programme, through the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), was to find reliable, diverse, affordable, publicly acceptable and safe ways to supply energy, while minimising climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions.

Background & objectives

UKERC carries out world-class research into sustainable future energy systems. UKERC acts as a focal point for UK energy research and a gateway between the UK and the international energy research communities. UKERC's interdisciplinary, whole systems energy research informs UK policy development and strategies of public, private and third sector organisations. The programme forms part of the Research Councils UK Energy Programme (RCEP), led by EPSRC.

UKERC was established in 2004, following a recommendation from the 2002 Energy Review. Three research councils (EPSRC, ESRC and NERC) received £28 million joint funding allocated for this purpose from the 2002 Government Spending Review. UKERC was initially funded for five years and in May 2009 was awarded a further round of funding for another five years. The initial two phases of the award were managed through the Towards a Sustainable Energy Economy (TSEC) programme and then on behalf of RCEP by NERC.

UKERC has continued into a third phase, 'The UK energy transition in an uncertain world: challenges and trade-offs', following a further £14 million of joint funding which commenced in 2014 and will run to 2019. UKERC phase III is now managed on behalf of the funders by EPSRC.

Details of all on-going programmes in phase III can be viewed on the UKERC programme webpage - external link.

Reports & key findings

Between 2012 and 2014 the UK Energy Research Centre ran two flagship projects, these drew together research undertaken during Phase II of the programme.

The UK Energy in a Global Context - external link
The UK Energy in a Global Context flagship project drew together the insights that UKERC research had generated relating to UK energy policy and decision options more explicitly in their global context.

Energy Strategies Under Uncertainty - external link
The UK Energy Research Centre's Energy Strategies Under Uncertainty project drew on a broad range of research being undertaken within the UKERC research programme, and wider research evidence, to address the dilemmas of UK energy policy-making and strategy development under uncertainty.

Other completed programmes during phases I and II with key outputs include:

Phase II - Making it happen: how can decarbonisation by 2050 be achieved? (2009-2014):

Energy and Environment - external link
Research within this theme investigated the impacts associated with a range of marine and land-based energy production and greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation technologies including bioenergy, wind, tidal, gas, nuclear and carbon capture and storage (CCS). The carbon and water footprints of these technologies have been investigated as have their social, economic and environmental impacts and their impacts on terrestrial and marine ecosystem services. A Working Paper, 'Bridging the Gap between Energy and the Environment' - external link, presenting these key findings can be viewed.

Energy Demand - external link
The objectives of this theme were to research how socio-economic and technical change affect energy demand in the UK, and to apply this to the need for more radical change to respond to climate and energy security challenges.

Energy Supply - external link
The Energy Supply team investigated the technical and regulatory issues in facilitating mass demand side participation through the deployment of smart meters and the challenging prospect of decarbonising the UK heat sector.

Energy Systems - external link
The overall aim of the Energy Systems theme was to make a world-class contribution to energy system modelling by showing how the UK, in a range of global contexts, could achieve its carbon targets and increase its energy system resilience over the period 2020-2050, exploring the associated economic and environmental implications.

Demand Reduction - external link
This theme was guided by the broad question: How much could demand reduction realistically contribute to energy policy goals? Demand reduction covers reduction in demand for both fossil fuel energy and energy services/ mobility. Demand reduction will contribute to reducing carbon emissions from energy use. One of the most challenging issues for energy policy is to identify how and to what extent demand can be reduced across all sectors of the economy.

Phase I - What does a decarbonised the UK energy system in 2050 look like? (2004-2009):

Energy Infrastructure and Supply - external link
The objective of the Energy Infrastructure and Supply theme was to assess and maintain the security of future energy supplies in the UK, timely and credible evaluation of the infrastructure for energy supply is essential. The Energy White Paper (2007) described the need for substantial investment in energy infrastructure during the next decade.

Energy Systems and Modelling - external link
Modelling quantifies and provides insights into UK and international energy policies, and dominates the international debate on the costs of climate change mitigation. The primary goal of the Energy Systems and Modelling (ESM) theme was to bring together the best modelling expertise in the UK and integrate it into a world-class research effort.

Environmental Sustainability - external link
The over-arching goal of the Environmental Sustainability theme was to develop and demonstrate an approach that could be used to appraise consistently the relationships between the environment and all fuel cycles. The theme cut across UKERC's other themes, particularly the Energy Systems and Modelling theme.

Material for Advanced Energy Systems - external link
Materials science was identified as a key cross-cutting theme and a key enabler for progress in the Energy Research Review Report. The push worldwide to innovate in areas such as nanotechnology, interface science, and materials modelling was viewed as an incentive to apply such developments to sustainable energy.