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Dr Elena Verdolini explains decarbonising the energy sector

CMCC and EIEE senior researcher Elena Verdolini explains how the energy sector, the largest producer of greenhouse gases, is surprisingly one of the easiest areas to decarbonise.

Electrification is growing fast as it becomes increasingly low-carbon or carbon-free entirely. Dr Verdolini explains how variability is a major obstacle to increasing the use of renewables and goes on to talk about the best ways to tackle the increasingly difficult obstacles this sector faces.

Read the full article here.

 

Promoting the energy transition through innovation

With the striking exception of the USA, countries around the world are committed to the implementation of stringent targets on anthropogenic carbon emissions, as agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement. Indeed, for better or for worse, the transition towards decarbonization is a collective endeavour, with the main challenge being a technological one. The path from a fossil-based to a sustainable and low-carbon economy needs to be paved through the development and deployment of low-carbon energy technologies which will allow to sustain economic growth while cutting carbon emissions.

Unfortunately, not all countries have access to the technologies which are necessary for this challenging transition. This in turn casts serious doubts on the possibility to achieve deep decarbonisation. Developed countries accumulated significant know-how in green technologies in the last decades, but most of developing and emerging countries do not have strong competences in this specific field. Yet, it is in these latter countries that energy demand, and hence carbon emissions, will increase dramatically in the years to come. The issue at stake is how to reconcile the need for a global commitment to the energy transition with the reality of largely unequal country-level technological competences.

Public R&D investments play an important role in the diffusion and deployment of low-carbon technologies. Public investment in research is the oldest way by which countries have supported renewable energy technologies. For instance, following the two oil crises of the 1970s, the United States invested a significant amount of public resources in research and development on wind and solar technologies, with a subsequent increase of innovation activities in these fields. The same pattern can be observed in the last two decades in Europe, where solar, wind and other low carbon technologies have been supported by public money. But innovation policies and R&D investments are only one of the possible ways in which governments can stimulate low-carbon innovation.

Environmental policies are another way to stimulate clean innovation, which comes as an additional pay-off of emissions reduction. Usually, governments rely on two different types of environmental policy instruments: command-and-control policies, such as emission or efficiency standards, and market-based policies, such as carbon taxies or pollution permits. The former put a limit on the quantity of pollutant that firms and consumers can emit. The latter essentially work by putting an explicit price on pollution. Both types of instruments have the direct effect of lowering carbon emission in the short term. In the longer term, they also have the indirect effect of promoting low-carbon innovation. This is because they make it worth for firms to bring to the market new, improved technologies. Over the past decades, countries have implemented different low-carbon policy portfolios, namely a combination of different policy instruments to foster the development and deployment of low-carbon technologies. The combination of R&D, command-and-control and market-based policies varies greatly across countries.

A crucial question often debated in the literature is: which policy instrument is more effective in promoting innovation in renewable technologies vis-à-vis innovation in efficient fossil-based technologies? Importantly, low-carbon innovation can refer either to renewable technologies, which effectively eliminate carbon emissions from production processes, or to more efficient fossil-based technologies, which decrease the content of carbon per unit of production. Favouring the former type of innovation over the latter is strategically important in the long-run: renewable technologies allow to completely decouple economic growth from carbon emissions. Conversely, fossil-based technologies may give rise to rebound effects, namely increase in overall energy demand (and possibly also in overall emissions) because they make it cheaper to use fossil inputs.

A recent study by Nesta et al. (2018) shows that certain combinations of research and environmental policy instruments are more effective in promoting renewable energy innovation than others. More specifically, there is no ‘one-fits-all’ solution when it comes to choosing the optimal combination of market-based or command-and-control environmental policies. Au contraire, to be effective in promoting renewable innovation, policy portfolios need to be tailored to the specific capability of each country. The study relies on data on innovation in low-carbon and fossil-based technologies in OECD countries and large emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and Indonesia, BRIICS) over the years 1990-2015. The authors apply an empirical methodology that allows to test how effective each “policy mix” is in promoting innovation, depending on the level of specialization of each country in terms of green innovation.

The analysis shows that there are three different regimes of low-carbon specialization. The first one characterizes those countries with extremely low competences in green technologies as compared to fossil-based technologies. This accounts for about half of the observations in the study, including the BRICS countries. In this case, the research suggests, the only effective way to promote the redirection of technological expertise towards green technologies is through direct investment in low carbon R&D.

The second regime does come into play until a country shows enough specialization in green technologies. In this regime, environmental policies start to become effective in further consolidating the green technological specialization. The successful innovation strategy in this case is that which combines command-and-control policy instruments – which lower the incentives associated with fossil innovation – with market-based policies – which increase the incentives associated with green innovation.

The third regime is characterized by a substantial specialization in green know-how. This regime includes only 12 percent of the observations in the study. In this last case, market-based instruments alone are effective in sustaining green innovation vis-à-vis innovation in fossil technologies.

Countries which tailor their policy portfolio based on their level of competencies will be more successful in promoting renewable innovation. A clear example of the dynamics behind this finding is illustrated by Denmark. In the pre-Kyoto period, Denmark had not yet reached the required level of expertise in renewable energy. The country continued to invested heavily in building such expertise through significant investments in renewable research and innovation. As a result, Denmark moved to the second regime. At that point, the country strengthened both command and control and market-based policy instruments, further promoting renewable innovation vis-à-vis innovation in fossil-based technologies. This resulted in an even higher level of competencies in renewables, bringing Denmark to the third regime. The country was then in a position to switch away from command-and-control instruments and simply rely on market-based instruments to promote renewable innovation.

Countries which fail to tailor their policy portfolio are not successful in promoting renewable energy innovation. For instance, France represents a case of failure, as illustrated by our results. The lack of an adequate market-based support for renewables in the nineties led to the full dissipation of the French early advantage in these technologies. Indeed, France was the only country that is in the third regime in the first period and was then in an ideal position to implement ambitious policies before other countries, thus keeping its relative technological advantage. Instead, the country chose to fully specialize in nuclear energy. This eroded France’s capability in renewable energy innovation. This implies that France cannot simply rely on market-based instruments to successfully promote renewable innovation nowadays.

These results are of interest for emerging economies, and suggest that countries like Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa should be less timid in strengthening the stringency of both types of policy instruments, because they are well positioned to fully benefit from the innovation incentives. Fast-developing countries desperately need to build innovative capacity in renewable energy technologies and promote their diffusion. Apart from India and, to a lesser extent, Indonesia, all countries have built a satisfactory level of expertise in renewables. This calls for the implementation of both market-based and command-and-control policy instruments as means to embark on a virtuous renewable innovation circle. China stands out due to a high level of expertise in green technologies. Overall, their level of expertise in renewables is such that they would be in the position to fully benefit from the innovation incentives associated with more stringent mitigation policies in support of the energy transition.

 

INNOPATHS consortium holds second all-partner meeting

The second all-partner meeting of the INNOPATHS consortium was held on 3rd – 5th September, hosted by the University of Cambridge. The meeting brought together representatives from all project partners from 8 European countries for three days of intensive, constructive discussions on progress within the project so far, and the future direction of the research. This included a review and demonstration of prototypes of the four original ‘interactive online tools’ – the Technology Matrix, the Policy Evaluation Tool, Interactive Decarbonisation Simulator, and Low Carbon Pathways Platform – each of which will channel different collections of results from the project research, and will seek to serve different purposes for their intended users.

 

In order to ensure that the research and the online tools (along with other research and their associated outputs) will best serve the needs of policy makers, civil servants, business and civil society, the second meeting of both the INNOPATHS External Advisory Board and the INNOPATHS Innovation and Exploitation Advisory Group also took place. Members of these respective bodies, drawn from the spectrum of stakeholder groups, provided insightful advice and guidance to the research team to maintain momentum and maximise policy relevance and we head towards the second half of the INNOPATHS research programme.

Dismissive and deceptive car dealerships create barriers to electric vehicle adoption at the point of sale

As most consumers do not have pre-existing knowledge of electric vehicles (EVs), and current market conditions favour petrol and diesel vehicles, car dealership experiences may strongly influence EV purchasing decisions. Here, we show that car dealer- ships pose a significant barrier at the point of sale due to a perceived lack of business case viability in relation to petrol and diesel vehicles. In 126 shopping experiences at 82 car dealerships across Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, wfind that dealers were dismissive of EVs, misinformed shoppers on vehicle specifications, omitted EVs from the sales conversation and strongly oriented customers towards petrol and diesel vehicle options. Dealers’ technological orientation, willingness to sell and displayed knowledge of EVs were the main contributors to likely purchase intentions. These findings combined with expert interviews suggest that government and industry signalling affect sales strategies and purchasing trends. Policy and business strategies that address barriers at the point of sale are needed to accelerate EV adoption.
Written by Gerarado Zarazua de Rubens, Lance Noel and Benjamin K. Sovacool

Read the full publication online

Energy Performance of Buildings Directive Revisions: What to Know.

The following is a guest blog by Anthony Gilbert, specialist in real estate and real estate marketing, and owner of The RealFX Group. Improving the energy efficiency of Europe’s buildings is a key element of a successful low-carbon transition. An important focus of the work of INNOPATHS is an examination of the barriers to achieving this objective, and how to overcome them. The blog focusses on the recent revisions to the EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), which currently sits at the heart of European policy to encourage energy efficiency in buildings.


The EU has recently changed its Energy Performance of Buildings code to encourage the efficiency of older buildings in the union. This move is just one of eight different proposals that seek to reduce the amount of energy used in EU structures. Right now, the building sector accounts for 40% of all energy use in the EU. With 75% of all buildings in Europe described as energy inefficient, these new proposals seek to renovate buildings in an effort to lower energy consumption by up to 6% and COemissions by up to 5%.

Primary Objectives 

These revisions state that smart technology is to be implemented whenever possible to inefficient buildings. Ultimately, this translates to more automation and better control systems. The larger goal for the EU is to hit 0% emissions by the year 2050. Professionals are instructed to use readiness indicators to determine how easy it will be to integrate the new technology into the building.

Ideally, they’ll be able to piece the resulting data together to determine the best renovation strategies for future structures. The EU is trying to capitalize on just how adaptable technology can be. They see these methods as a chance to stabilize the electricity and to drive the union away from the use of fossil fuels and carbon emissions.

The Role of Member States 

The directives of these revisions are deliberately vague to account for the many anomalies and incongruities of renovation and retrofitting. Member States are given the freedom to accomplish these objectives as they see fit. Each neighborhood is allowed to decide the best way to implement the changes based on not only the physical infrastructure but also the environmental obstacles that may stand in the way of ideal working conditions. The larger EU bureaucracy will only interfere if they feel that Member States are not honoring the revisions or otherwise failing to promote sustainability. As they begin promoting more renovations, homeowners and tenants should start to see their energy bills fall.

A Rise in Jobs

The rate of renovation in the EU is currently between .4 – 1.2%, so there’s a lot of room for growth when it comes to installing smarter energy systems. The construction industry in Europe puts 18 million people to work and is responsible for 9% of Europe’s GDP. These new directives give experts in renovations and retrofits more opportunities to put their knowledge to good work, and it gives novices a chance to learn on the job and transform themselves into the energy protectors of tomorrow. These types of radical turnarounds tend to boost jobs in related sectors. The rise in competition usually results in better products and services, which is truly a win-win for both people and the planet.

Improved Lifestyles

Building inefficiency doesn’t just hurt the environment, it can also hurt the people who reside in the buildings. Humidity, dust, and pollutants can hang in the air of a building that lacks the necessary components to circulate it. Vulnerable groups like children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to illness after repeated exposure. The smarter a building is, the more breathable the air will be and the more comfortable the residents will feel. Ultimately, the EU wants everyone to start taking their energy consumption seriously. By starting with the buildings people live and work in, they hope to spur a larger movement that makes it easy to hit their greenhouse gas goals.

Future Goals 

The EU fully understands that is has a long way to go if they’re hoping to stamp out energy inefficiency in a sector as large as the building industry. However, these revisions are truly a step in the right direction. By encouraging Member States to put their energy into smarter building, they inadvertently create demand for green building. As homeowners, building owners, and tenants start to see their health improve and their energy bills become much more affordable, it will create a new standard of living. Leaders believe that this strategy will help them achieve global leadership in promoting renewable energy.

Every country is responsible for promoting their own version of energy efficiency, but the EU seems to have the right idea by dreaming big. Benefits like job creation, better health, and lower utility bills are developments that everyone can support, regardless of their personal views about our responsibility to preserve the planet for future generations.

Anthony Gilbert is the owner of The RealFX Group. Anthony specializes in real estate and real estate marketing, and likes to follow and promote advancements in accessible and efficient technology for homeowners.

Local and regional governments as pathfinders for the transition to a low-carbon economy

The energy transition required to mitigate against global warming is rightly regarded as a global, international challenge requiring macro-level shifts in environmental and economic policy, and the role of local and regional governments, be it in developing viable and replicable business models, acting as a lead customer in driving eco-innovative solutions, or using their economic leverage through procurement, can be easy to overlook.

As a global network of cities and regions working on both political advocacy and concrete projects relating to energy transition, ICLEI has established city networks aimed at uptake of renewable energy and setting of low-emissions targets, carrying out eco-innovative energy tenders, as well as community-owned energy projects and road-mapping projects for low-carbon heating and transport in cities.

Regional networks and eco-innovative tenders
The SPP Regions project, which concluded in March 2018, generated over 1000 GWh of renewable energy and achieved its carbon and energy savings targets through eco-innovative tenders carried out in the project’s 7 regional sustainable procurement networks.

Starting in 2015 and coordinated by ICLEI, the project has promoted the creation and expansion of European regional networks of municipalities working together on sustainable public procurement (SPP) and public procurement of innovation (PPI). As it approaches its conclusion, it has saved 395,000 tCO2/year and primary energy totaling 1,425 GWh/year, as well as procuring 1,015 GWh of renewable energy across 39 tenders in 7 countries, involving 31 contracting authorities. Additionally, the project recruited new partner networks in 8 other European regions and worked closely with the Procura+ European Sustainable Procurement Network.

The full list of tender models is available to download on the project website, where a savings calculation methodology used in the GPP2020 project demonstrates how the targets and achievements are quantified. The project has also produced a package of in-depth guidance and a series of ‘how-to’ videos on the implementation of various sustainable procurement practices such as market engagement and circular procurement, as well as the 3rd edition of the Procura+ Manual.

BuyZET – Mapping city’s transportation emissions footprints
Launched in November 2016, the BuyZET project is a partnership of cities aiming to achieve zero emission urban delivery of goods and services through procurement of innovation solutions and the development of city procurement plans.

The project has released a series of reports on the methods and results of the transportation footprint mapping exercise that identifies high priority procurement areas. These procurement areas have the potential, through improved processes and supplier solutions, to impact upon the transportation footprint of a public authority.

The first step in mapping the transportation footprint is to identify and include all activities performed by cities that involve transportation. Each city within the BuyZET project – Copenhagen, Oslo and Rotterdam – has studied the transportation impacts of different types of procurement activities following different methodologies developed within the project. The three reports from Copenhagen, Oslo and Rotterdam are available here, as well as a consolidated summary of the results of the three reports.

Heat Roadmap Europe
Heat Roadmap Europe, which studies heat demand accounting for approximately 85-90% of total heating and cooling in Europe, has issued a brochure which presents an overview of the current state of the energy demand for heating and cooling in the EU.

In March 2018, a workshop hosted by the EU Joint Research Centre and co-organised by Aalborg University and ICLEI, introduced participants to the project’s main mapping and modelling tools to develop national Heat Roadmaps: Forecast, Cost Curves, JRC-EU-TIMES and EnergyPLAN. Together the tools will allow for building technically possible and, socio-economically feasible, decarbonisation scenarios.

Campaigns and initiatives for a low-carbon economy
ICLEI convenes several collaborative initiatives involving energy and emissions targets at the European and global levels:

Cities for Climate Protection Campaign
Local Government Climate Roadmap
Procura+ European Sustainable Procurement Network
Global Lead City Network on Sustainable Procurement

Two main ingredients for a successful energy transition? A diverse financial system and the right policies

The discussion and action points for moving to an almost carbon-free energy supply have shifted from developing technologies towards a question of how to most effectively and efficiently implement the energy transition without compromising economic development and well-being [1,2]. Transforming our energy systems into more decentralized and renewable energy sources will require a vast deployment of innovations and, accordingly, huge investment. Estimates for the total investment begin at about USD 700 billion, which amounts to a mere 1% of global GDP [3]. There are two key levers to accomplish this task that are cited in almost every publication and report since the early 2000s. These are the use of private financial resources, and an appropriate policy framework. There has been a lively debate about what enabling elements are required for these elements to drive the transition and “shift the trillions” [4].

Financing energy technology innovation – the need for diversity

There is no doubt that the financial sector could, in principle, finance the transition. The financial system gives direction to the development of the real economy. Its traditional role is to mobilize and transform savings into productive investments. However over the last 20 years, driven by consolidation, the race for efficiency and deregulation and financial markets lost a lot of the diversity that is needed to finance innovation (see Figure 1). Many markets are dominated by just a few banks and institutional investors, which have been severely affected by the 2010 financial and subsequent regulation, driving a lot of risk carrying capacity out of banking and insurance markets, which turn provide financing risk-capital such as venture capitalists. The focus of the ecosystem for financing towards debt and later stages of the innovation cycle creates a bias towards calculable risks and, importantly, the maintenance and expansion of the existing capital stock in existing firms rather than new ventures. New forms of alternative finance innovations (such as crowdfunding or community-based credit unions) that could provide the necessary investments might be able to fill this gap, but their volumes are still (too) small. A very important ‘side-effect’ of increasing the diversity of players in financial markets is that the system as a whole becomes more resilient against shocks. Many different players with many different decision heuristics are less prone to making the same errors (Polzin et al. 2017).

Figure 1: Financial instruments to finance clean energy innovation (Source: Polzin et al. 2017)

Policy framework – clear directions and a choice of instruments

Given the current financial landscape we see two main strands of policy interventions to increase both attractiveness of low-carbon energy technologies and the diversity of sources of finance that can be mobilised.

First, innovation policy such as grants for R&D, demonstration support, risk-sharing facilities, tax-credits or Feed-in Tariffs will attract the necessary early-stage investments for future generations of technologies needed for an energy transition (for example organic batteries or power to gas). To overcome the so-called ‘valley of death’ in the innovation chain, public loans or loan guarantees might be suitable, but the risk of over-funding rapidly growing firms should be taken into account. Governments could also invest directly to create a technology ‘track-record’, important for investors [5]. In the later stages of innovation, especially for renewable energy, depending on the design features, portfolio standards or recently popular capacity auctions, prove effective tools. All these efforts should be embedded in a clear and long-term policy strategy consistent with the commitments of the Paris Agreement to be credible to investors. Consistency, stringency and predictability to reduce deep uncertainty and policy risk are deemed especially crucial.

Second, equally important for achieving a mostly privately-financed energy transition are appropriate financial market conditions and regulations [3]. Unprecedented monetary policies in the Eurozone (Quantitative Easing) have driven the cost of debt finance to zero or below and flooded financial markets with cheap debt finance. Still, only very little of that monetary expansion finds its way into the real economy, let alone into clean energy. Framework conditions for either debt or equity-based instruments influence their contribution to a clean energy transition, as a developed capital market is needed to channel resources. In this regard, a fiscal preferential treatment of debt finance, which is widespread today, should be avoided. Typically, interest is deductable as costs, while dividend payments only occur after tax. Policy makers should try to level the playing field across sources of finance. Furthermore capital market regulation shapes investment mandates and risk models and thus ultimately determines the feasibility and viability of investments into clean energy. Regulation (for example Basel III, Solvency II), especially since the financial crisis, is almost exclusively geared towards stability and security. Hence institutional investors and their intermediaries are forced to stay away from risky asset classes such as venture capital. A no-regret solution would be to require financial intermediaries to lower their overall leverage ratio (debt to equity) and operate with more equity. With more ‘skin in the game’, banks and institutional investors can responsibly handle more risk and uncertainty on their balance sheets. New alternative finance such as equity and debt-based crowdfunding are also becoming more regulated in many countries. Regulators should abstain from clamping down on them, for example through a regulatory sandbox.

In sum, to effectively and efficiently mobilise private finance for innovation and diffusion of low-carbon energy technologies, it is paramount to increase diversity of financial sources available in the market and also, next to an adequate innovation policy, adjust financial market regulations and conditions. The INNOPATHS finance workstream, consisting of ETH Zurich, PIK, Allianz Climate Solutions and Utrecht University will further explore the dynamics finance-energy (innovation)-policy dynamics [see for example 5,6].

Resources:

[1] Mazzucato, M., Semieniuk, G., 2018. Financing renewable energy: Who is financing what and why it matters. Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change. 127, 8-22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2017.05.021

[2] Polzin, F., 2017. Mobilizing private finance for low-carbon innovation – A systematic review of barriers and solutions. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2017.04.007

[3] Polzin, F., Sanders, M., Täube, F., 2017. A diverse and resilient financial system for investments in the energy transition. Curr. Opin. Environ. Sustain. 28, 24–32. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2017.07.004

[4] Germanwatch, 2017. Shifting the Trillions – The Role of the G20 in Making Financial Flows Consistent with Global Long-Term Climate Goals. https://germanwatch.org/en/13482

[5] Geddes, A., Schmidt, T.S., Steffen, B., 2018. The multiple roles of state investment banks in low-carbon energy finance: an analysis of Australia, the UK and Germany. Energy Policy 115, 158–170. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2018.01.009

[6] Steffen, B., 2018. The importance of project finance for renewable energy projects. Energy Econ. 69, 280–294. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eneco.2017.11.006

Latest papers published by INNOPATHS

INNOPATHS is a four year EU funded research project that aims to work with key economic and societal actors to generate new, state-of-the-art low-carbon pathways for the European Union. Below is a round-up of the latest research to come from INNOPATHS.

Anadón, L.D., Baker, E., Bosetti, V. (2017) Integrating uncertainty into public energy research and development decisions, Nature 2, Article number: 17071 Free access

Geddes, A., Schmidt, T., Steffen, B. (2018) The multiple roles of state investment banks in low-carbon energy finance: An analysis of Australia, the UK and Germany, Energy Policy 115, 158–170 Free access

Steffen, B. (2018). The importance of project finance for renewable energy projects, Energy Economics 69, 280-294 post-print manuscript

Verdolini, E, Anadon, LD, Baker, ED, Bosetti, V, Reis, L. (2018) The future of energy technologies: an overview of expert elicitations.’ Review of Environmental Economics and Policy Free access

Electric mobility and vehicle-to-grid integration: unexplored questions and benefits

Reducing energy demand in the transportation sector is one of the most difficult challenges we face to meet our CO2 emission reduction targets. Due to the sector’s dependence on fossil fuel energy sources and the monumental negative consequences for climate change, air pollution and other social impacts, countless researchers, policymakers and other stakeholders view a widespread transition to electric mobility as both feasible and socially desirable.

How do we go about making it happen? As researchers working on low carbon mobility we need to start looking beyond technical challenges and look at the role of consumer acceptance and driver behavior, as well as the role for policy coordination, to move forward. My colleagues and I have been looking at research on vehicle-to-grid (V2G) and vehicle-grid-integration (VGI) and found that the focus has been too narrow so far. To help make the transition to electric mobility happen, we need to understand the benefits of the technology and propose areas where research should expand.

How does V2G work?

V2G and VGI refers to efforts to link the electric power system and the transportation system in ways that can improve the sustainability and security of both. As our figure below illustrates, a V2G configuration means that personal automobiles have the opportunity to become not only vehicles, but mobile, self-contained resources that can manage power flow and displace the need for electric utility infrastructure. They could even begin to sell services back to the grid and/or store large amounts of energy from renewable and distributed sources of supply such as wind and solar.

Visual depiction of a Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) or Vehicle-Grid-Integration (VGI) network

Source: Willett Kempton

What are the benefits of V2G integration?

A transition to V2G could enable vehicles to simultaneously improve the efficiency (and profitability) of electricity grids, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport, accommodate low-carbon sources of energy, and reap cost savings for vehicle owners, drivers, and other users.

The four main benefits of V2G integration are:

  • Turning unused equipment into useful services to the grid

A typical vehicle is on the road only 4–5% of the day, so 95% of the time, personal vehicles sit unused in parking lots or garages, typically near a building with electrical power.[1]

  • Using underutilised utility resources

Many utility resources go underused, which is an implication of the requirement that electricity generation and transmission capacity must be sufficient to meet the highest expected demand for power at any time. One study estimates that as of 2007, 84% of all light duty vehicles, if they were suddenly converted into plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) in the United States, could be supported by the existing electric infrastructure if they drew power from the grid at off-peak times[2].

  • Financial and economic benefits

Automobiles in a VGI configuration could provide additional revenue to owners that wish to sell power or grid services back to electric utilities.  Some studies suggest that some types of vehicle fleets could earn even more revenue than passenger vehicles, especially fleets with predictable driving patterns.[3]

  • Reduced air pollution and climate change, and increased integration and penetration of renewable sources of energy. PNNL projected that pollution from total volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide emissions would decrease by 93% and 98%, respectively, under a scenario of VGI penetration and total NOx emissions would also be reduced by 31%. [4]  A VGI system can further accrue environmental benefits by providing storage support for intermittent renewable-energy generators.[5]

The unexplored questions

The vast majority of studies looking at VGI simply assume that consumers will go along and behave as the system tells them to. We need to better understand people, what cars they want to buy, and what it would take for them to be comfortable in letting someone else control the charging of their electric vehicle.

Furthermore, we need to understand how the societal benefits of the technology are distributed, especially among vulnerable groups. A transition to low carbon mobility needs to be just and equitable too.

V2G clearly has the potential to provide a wide variety of benefits to society.  However, research needs to broaden its focus and consider the following aspects:

  • Environmental performance of V2G in particular, rather than electric vehicles more generally;
  • Financing and business models, especially for new actors such as aggregators who may sit between vehicle owners and electric utilities;
  • User behavior, especially differing classes of those who may want to adopt electric vehicles and offer V2G services, and those who may not;
  • Natural resource use, including rare earth minerals and toxics needed for batteries and lifecycle components;
  • Visions and narratives, in particular cycles of hype and disappointment;
  • Social justice concerns, notably those cutting across vulnerable groups;
  • Gender norms and practices; and
  • Urban resilience in the face of intensifying climate change and consequent natural disasters.

Although the optimal mix is hard to discern, the share of V2G and VGI studies that focus on technical matters and rely on technical methods seems too large and imbalanced—as demonstrated by the many socially relevant research questions that remain unexplored.

Ultimately, these gaps in research need to be addressed to achieve the societal transition V2G advocates hope for.

 

Further reading:

This blog is based on two studies – “The Future Promise of Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) Integration: A Sociotechnical Review and Research Agenda” and “The neglected social dimensions to a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) transition: A critical and systematic review”—are available in the October Volume of Annual Review of Environment and Resources and Environmental Research Letters.

Read more about CIED’s research on urban transport and smart freight mobility.

Citations:

Sovacool, BK, L Noel, J Axsen, and W Kempton. “The neglected social dimensions to a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) transition: A critical and systematic review,” Environmental Research Letters 13(1) (January, 2018), 013001, pp. 1-18.

Sovacool, BK, J Axsen, and W Kempton. “The Future Promise of Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) Integration: A Sociotechnical Review and Research Agenda,” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 42 (October, 2017), pp. 377-406.

References:

[1] G. Pasaoglu et al., Travel patterns and the potential use of electric cars – Results from a direct survey in six European countries, Technological Forecasting & Social Change Volume 87, September 2014, Pages 51–59

[2] Michael K. Hidrue, George R. Parsons, Is there a near-term market for vehicle-to-grid electric vehicles?, Applied Energy 151 (2015) 67–76

[3] Michael K. Hidrue, George R. Parsons, Is there a near-term market for vehicle-to-grid electric vehicles?, Applied Energy 151 (2015) 67–76

[4] Kintner-Meyer, Michael, Kevin Schneider, and Robert Pratt. 2007. “Impacts Assessment of Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles on Electric Utilities and Regional U.S. Power Grids Part 1: Technical Analysis,” Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Report, available at http://www.pnl.gov/energy/eed/etd/pdfs/phev_feasibility_analysis_combined.pdf.

[5] Okan Arslan, Oya Ekin Karasan, Cost and emission impacts of virtual power plant formation in plug-in hybrid electric vehicle penetrated networks, Energy 60 (2013) 116-124

We must accelerate transitions for sustainability and climate change, experts say

We must move faster towards a low-carbon world if we are to limit global warming to 2oC this century, experts have warned.

Changes in electricity, heat, buildings, industry and transport are needed rapidly and must happen all together, according to research from our partners at the Universities of Sussex. The new study, published in the journal Science, was co-authored by INNOPATHS’ Benjamin K. Sovacool.

To provide a reasonable (66%) chance of limiting global temperature increases to below 2oC, the International Energy Agency and International Renewable Energy Agency suggest that global energy-related carbon emissions must peak by 2020 and fall by more than 70% in the next 35 years. This implies a tripling of the annual rate of energy efficiency improvement, retrofitting the entire building stock, generating 95% of electricity from low-carbon sources by 2050 and shifting almost entirely towards electric cars.

This elemental challenge necessitates “deep decarbonisation” of electricity, transport, heat, industrial, forestry and agricultural systems across the world.  But despite the recent rapid growth in renewable electricity generation, the rate of progress towards this wider goal remains slow.

Moreover, many energy and climate researchers remain wedded to disciplinary approaches that focus on a single piece of the low-carbon transition puzzle. A case in point is a recent Science Policy Forum proposing a ‘carbon law’ that will guarantee that zero-emissions are reached. This model-based prescription emphasizes a single policy instrument, but neglects the wider political, cultural, business, and social drivers of low carbon transitions.

A new, interdisciplinary study published in Science presents a ‘sociotechnical’ framework that explains how these different drivers can interlink and mutually reinforce one another and how the pace of the low carbon transition can be accelerated.

Professor Benjamin K. Sovacool from the University of Sussex, a co-author on the study, says:

“Current rates of change are simply not enough. We need to accelerate transitions, deepen their speed and broaden their reach. Otherwise there can be no hope of reaching a 2 degree target, let alone 1.5 degrees. This piece reveals that the acceleration of transitions across the sociotechnical systems of electricity, heat, buildings, manufacturing, and transport requires new conceptual approaches, analytical foci, and research methods.”

The Policy Forum provides four key lessons for how to accelerate sustainability transitions.

Lesson 1: Focus on socio-technical systems rather than individual elements

Rapid and deep decarbonization requires a transformation of ‘sociotechnical systems’ – the interlinked mix of technologies, infrastructures, organizations, markets, regulations and user practices that together deliver societal functions such as personal mobility.  Previous systems have developed over many decades, and the alignment and co-evolution of their elements makes them resistant to change.

Accelerated low-carbon transitions therefore depend on both techno-economic improvements, and social, political and cultural processes, including the development of positive or negative discourses. Professor Steve Sorrell from the University of Sussex, a coauthor of the study, states: “In this policy forum we describe how transformational changes in energy and transport systems occur, and how they may be accelerated. Traditional policy approaches emphasizing a single technology will not be enough.”

Lesson 2: Align multiple innovations and systems

Socio-technical transitions gain momentum when multiple innovations are linked together, improving the functionality of each and acting in combination to reconfigure systems.  The shale gas revolution, for instance, accelerated when seismic imaging, horizontal drilling, and hydraulic fracturing were combined.   Likewise, accelerated low-carbon transitions in electricity depend not only on the momentum of renewable energy innovations like wind, solar-PV and bio-energy, but also on complementary innovations including energy storage and demand response.  These need aligned and then linked so that innovations are harmonized.

Prof. EU INNOPATHS consortium researching low-carbon transitions for Europe, comments: “One of the great strengths of this study is the equal emphasis it accords to technological, social, business and policy innovation, in all of which governments as well as the private sector have a key role to play.

“European countries will become low-carbon societies not only when the required low-carbon technologies have been developed but when new business models and more sustainable consumer aspirations are driving their deployment at scale. Public policy has an enormous role to play at every step in the creation of these changed conditions.”

Lesson 3: Offer societal and business support

Public support is crucial for effective transition policies. Low-carbon transitions in mobility, agro-food, heat and buildings will also involve millions of citizens who need to modify their purchase decisions, user practices, beliefs, cultural conventions and skills. To motivate citizens, financial incentives and information about climate change threats need to be complemented by positive discourses about the economic, social and cultural benefits of low-carbon innovations.

Furthermore, business support is essential because the development and deployment of low-carbon innovations depends upon the technical skills, organizational capabilities and financial resources of the private sector. Green industries and supply chains can solidify political coalitions supporting ambitious climate policies and provide a counterweight to incumbents.  Technological progress can drive climate policy by providing solutions or altering economic interests. Shale gas and solar-PV developments, for instance, altered the US and Chinese positions in the international climate negotiations.

Lesson 4: Phase out existing systems

Socio-technical transitions can be accelerated by actively phasing out existing technologies, supply chains, and systems that lock-in emissions for decades. Professor Sovacool comments that: “All too often, analysists and even policymakers focus on new incentives, on the phasing in of low-carbon technologies. This study reminds us that phasing out existing systems can be just as important as stimulating novel innovations.”

For instance, the UK transition to smokeless solid fuels and gas was accelerated by the 1956 Clean Air Act, which allowed cities to create smokeless zones where coal use was banned. Another example is the 2009 European Commission decision to phase-out incandescent light bulbs, which accelerated the shift to compact fluorescents and LEDs. French and UK governments have announced plans to phase-out petrol and diesel cars by 2040. Moreover, the UK intends to phase out unabated coal-fired power generation by 2025 (if feasible alternatives are available).

Phasing out existing systems accelerates transitions by creating space for niche-innovations and removing barriers to their diffusion. The phase-out of carbon-intensive systems is also essential to prevent the bulk of fossil fuel reserves from being burned, which would obliterate the 2oC target. This phase-out will be challenging since it threatens the largest and most powerful global industries (e.g. oil, automobiles, electric utilities, agro-food, steel), which will fight to protect their vested economic and political interests.

Conclusion 

Deep decarbonization requires complementing model-based analysis with socio-technical research. While the former analyzes technically feasible least-cost pathways, the latter addresses innovation processes, business strategies, social acceptance, cultural discourses and political struggles, which are difficult to model but crucial in real-world transitions. As Professor Geels notes, an enduring lesson is that “to accelerate low-carbon transitions, policymakers should not only stimulate techno-economic developments, but also build political coalitions, enhance business involvement, and engage civil society.”

Additionally, the research underscores the non-technical, or social, elements of transitions.  Dr. Tim Schwanen from the University of Oxford, a coauthor, states that “the approach described in this Policy Forum demonstrates the importance of heeding insights from across the social sciences in thinking about low-carbon transitions.”

While full integration of both approaches is not possible, productive bridging strategies may enable policy strategies that are both cost-effective and socio-politically feasible.

Further links

This article was originally posted on the University of Sussex website.

Click here to read the full paper in Science