Whole energy systems

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 (Evidence source 1-8). This area has a broad remit across 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 (e.g. 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 (Evidence source 7-10).

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, to enable the next generation of researchers to naturally adopt a whole systems approach to energy research.

By the end of the current Delivery Plan period, we aim to:

  • Increase the policy impact of Whole Energy Systems research - past, present and future - 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/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 (ECRs) 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.

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 (Evidence source 6,9-12). Additional drivers include challenges to security of supply, ageing infrastructure and increasing consumer demand (Evidence source 7). A highly fragmented institutional landscape maintains and develops governance of the system, without explicitly taking a whole-system view (Evidence source 4,7). Research and innovation is crucial for wide-scale deployment and integration of key energy technologies and development of a suitable low-carbon, long-term infrastructure (Evidence source 11-12).

Capacity and quality in this area grew over the last Delivery Plan period. There remains a general consensus, however, that improved integration of research is needed across the community to encourage interdisciplinary research and ECR researchers that can address the challenges outlined above. The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), active since 2002, remains the largest cross-Council investment in this area, continuing until 2019. Some established-career fellowships have been supported, but as yet no dedicated Whole Energy Systems ECR fellowships. 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 and the former Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) (Evidence source 6).

UK Research and Innovation funding has enabled development of a range of policy resources (e.g. the IGov institutional framework, (Evidence source 13) UKERC'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, or wholeSEM) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the Committee on Climate Change use them to address future scenarios.

This research area feeds into the following EPSRC Ambitions within the Resilient, Connected and Productive Nation Outcomes:

R1: Achieve energy security and efficiency

R2: Ensure a reliable infrastructure which underpins the UK economy R4: Manage resources efficiently and sustainably

R4: Manage resources efficiently and sustainably

R5: Build new tools to adapt to and mitigate climate change

Whole Energy Systems research will contribute to the way the energy system will transition to meet national needs, and to the development of tools used to inform policy decisions.

P5: Transform to a sustainable society, with a focus on the circular economy

C3: Deliver intelligent technologies and systems

Whole Energy Systems research will work towards developing mechanisms for the implementation of new technologies across the network to enable sustainable low-carbon energy supply, generation and transmission.

  1. Strategic Advisory Committee (SAC) input.
  2. RCUK, RCUK Review of Energy 2010, (2010).
  3. The RCUK Energy Programme's Futures Forum workshop, (2009).
  4. EPSRC/Energy Systems Catapult workshop, (2016).
  5. Committee on Climate Change, The Fifth Carbon Budget, (2015).
  6. Energy Systems Catapult, Five-year Plan (PDF), (2016).
  7. Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and DECC, Britain's Power System (the Case for a System Architect), (2014).
  8. DECC, Towards a Smart Energy System (PDF), (2015).
  9. Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), UK Scenarios for a Low Carbon Energy System Transition (PDF), (2015).
  10. UKERC, UKERC Interdisciplinary Review: Research Report, (2015).
  11. ETI, Accelerating Low Carbon Energy Innovation in the UK (PDF), (2015).
  12. Royal Academy of Engineering, A Critical Time for UK Energy Policy and What Must Be Done Now to Deliver the UK's Future Energy System, (2015).
  13. C. Mitchell, M. Lockwood, R. Hoggett and C. Kuzemko, (2016), Governing for Innovation without Disruption in Energy Systems, conference paper for the British Institute of Energy Economics (BIEE).

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC Support by Research Area in Whole Energy Systems (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Sarah Ashwood
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Department: Engineering and Healthcare Technologies
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444301