Systems thinking for the energy revolution
The Energy Revolution Integration Service (ERIS), is supporting the Prospering from the Energy Revolution (PFER) challenge to invest £102.5 million in industry and research in order to develop smart, renewable energy systems.
ERIS director, Eva Gromadzki, writes here about the purpose of the service and the importance of systems thinking.
ERIS began because a succession of industry leaders came through our chief executive’s office [at Energy Systems Catapult] to point out that although there’s been lots of funding for energy demonstrator projects it didn’t seem to be significantly changing the way we consume or have access to energy.
We looked at previous programmes and it seemed that the people who’d historically been given the money were tech-centered - they might improve the efficiency of how we produce energy or improve safety. They weren’t thinking about the wider system. It’s not just the technology. The consumer is part of the system. The way you get to innovation faster is to think outside the siloes.
The role of ERIS, and the remit we at Energy Systems Catapult were given, is to bring systems thinking to the PFER challenge and through this to help innovators succeed faster and therefore more cheaply.
Find out more about the PFER challenge
Imagine any system is comprised of, let’s call them cogs. If you move one of the cogs there will be either intended or unintended consequences. Systems thinking encourages you to think about what those other consequences are and to iteratively rethink design in terms of what you are trying to achieve.
A good example is of the government putting the energy price cap on; as well as protecting some consumers it actually created a ceiling up to which all the energy suppliers put their prices, so as well as helping a large segment of consumers, they have also made energy more expensive for others.
It’s easy to say that heat pumps are the solution to decarbonizing heat, and that is what a lot of people, particularly in government, are saying at the moment, and they’re kind of right. However, getting heat pumps into people’s homes is a massive challenge because they’re expensive, they take up space, they can be noisy and they provide a different kind of heat which isn’t instantaneous. In our research we found very few people willing to take a heat pump for free and be part of our trials because they don’t really like the whole hassle of what it represents.
The systems thinking aspect here is not just ‘let’s go and install heat pumps’, because that will never work; the first thing is you have to do is go and understand how consumers will interact with them. What flicks their switch? What are the pains or the gains that you’re going to be solving or offering to customers that will make them believe that a heat pump in their house is really something they want?
We are planning to publish a series of insight papers about the programme. It’s really about proving business models, so we will be drawing out general observations as well as talking about barriers and how to overcome them.