Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Whole energy systems

This research area aims to develop cohesion and understanding of Whole Energy Systems and specifically the whole UK energy system.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

This area aims to develop cohesion and understanding of Whole Energy Systems and specifically the whole UK energy system.

Incorporating socio-techno-economic and environmental analyses with an emphasis on technology, this research area addresses the complexities, interactions and interdependencies within the energy landscape and its connections with other systems. It requires a broad, multidisciplinary approach – from the supply of fuels for energy generation, through to the transmission and end-use of energy.

This involves various techniques, such as developing evidence to support scenario-building and advanced modelling to demonstrate how the system will evolve and how transition to a low-carbon system with increased energy efficiency might be achieved.

Research into whole energy systems is needed to help shape the transition of the UK energy system to a low-carbon system meeting the 2050 carbon targets.

This area has a broad remit across the research councils. For EPSRC, the focus lies with fundamental research and innovation with respect to tools and approaches that can enable system restructuring, modelling and integration of whole energy systems technologies.

The area has several links to other areas of energy research (including renewable technologies and end-use energy demand), as well as much wider implications for systems engineering and power networks. Fostering these links is crucial to maximising the impact of research both in whole energy systems and individual technologies.

This strategy aims to maintain capacity within this research area, while encouraging development of stronger interdisciplinary connections between the research communities that sit across research council boundaries. This will enable the next generation of researchers to naturally adopt a whole systems approach to energy research.

We aim to:

  • increase the policy impact of whole energy systems research and ensure it plays a key role in energy projections used in policy decision-making, and for industry and government
  • integrate research activities more effectively across the landscape, to enable improved collaborative understanding of risks and uncertainties associated with transition and implementation of future energy systems
  • expand whole energy systems research beyond modelling-focused techniques, while maintaining capability in this area
  • increase support for early career researchers and encourage an interdisciplinary skills base, to ensure sustained research capability in the future
  • engage the academic community with industry by supporting the Energy Systems Catapult
  • continue supporting critical-mass investments in this research area.

Why we're doing it

Whole energy systems research has grown greatly in national importance and is now recognised as a primary factor in enabling decarbonisation of the UK’s energy system.

Additional drivers include challenges to security of supply, ageing infrastructure and increasing consumer demand. A highly fragmented institutional landscape maintains and develops governance of the system, without explicitly taking a whole-system view. Research and innovation is crucial for wide-scale deployment and integration of key energy technologies and development of suitable low-carbon, long-term infrastructure.

Capacity and quality in whole energy systems has grown. There remains a general consensus, however, that improved integration of research is needed across the community to encourage interdisciplinary research and early career researchers that can address the challenges outlined above. The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) remains the largest cross-council investment in this area, continuing until 2024. Some established career fellowships have been supported, but as yet no dedicated Whole Energy Systems early career researcher fellowships.

Other key EPSRC investments include:

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships. Find out more about research area connections and funding for Whole Energy Systems.

Find previously funded projects on Grants on the Web.

Past projects

UK Research and Innovation funding has enabled development of a range of policy resources, for example the IGov institutional framework for energy governanceUKERC’s Energy Research Atlas and Technology and Policy Assessments.

Many models have been developed through this research area particularly through large investments such as the Whole Systems Energy Modelling Consortium (wholeSEM). The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Committee on Climate Change use them to address future scenarios.

Other key EPSRC investments include the launch of the National Centre for Energy Systems Integration and the Energy Systems Catapult in collaboration with Innovate UK.

Who to contact

Last updated: 6 January 2023

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