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Tyndall Manchester

Tyndall's energy systems research

Energy systems

Energy systems

Energy systems meet our everyday needs through a range of services including; heating, cooling, mobility and powering appliances. Our current patterns of consumption and the energy sources used to satisfy them are the main source of our contribution to climate change.  Moving from existing energy systems based on standard fossil fuels is challenging as there are many interwoven technical, social and economic relationships to account for.

Understanding how energy systems can change to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts requires bringing together a wide range of research skills and perspectives. The key research questions to address are; how can we best increase the role of technologies such as solar, wind, bioenergy and energy storage in energy systems; and how can changes in our demand for energy services help to make energy systems zero carbon?

Tyndall Manchester is taking a holistic and global approach to the technical and environmental performance, governance, economic factors and social acceptability issues that need to be addressed in designing and delivering future energy systems.

Our researchers are providing industry shaping analysis on bioenergy and shipping fuel pathways. We are applying life cycle assessment techniques to better understand the environmental impacts of adding new energy storage to deal with intermittency and variability of energy supply. Our work investigates radical ways to tackle climate change through demand reduction in aviation, passenger transport and shipping.

Transport demand

Transport, whether it is inland by road and rail, or internationally by shipping and aviation, is fundamental to the movement of people, goods and services worldwide.

Passenger transport is a significant source of CO­2 emissions and, when compared to other sectors of the economy, its progress to decarbonise has been slow. International transport sits outside the direct jurisdiction of nations and is not included in the Paris Agreement, so there is limited international regulation in place to ensure that it decarbonises.

Tyndall Manchester is investigating the potential for rapid decarbonisation in UK passenger transport aligned with the Paris Agreements. We have also completed world-leading research on international aviation, defining carbon budgets for the sector. On international shipping, we have explored rapid decarbonisation in the sector, and the implications of decarbonising international trade for shipping.

Our work has drawn attention to the challenges and policy implications of tackling aviation and shipping emissions. It has provided an assessment of the environmental impacts of alternative fuels for the shipping sector and explored the potential for wind-assist technologies and wider measures to support the decarbonisation of shipping. 

Heating and cooling demand

Within the UK, heating and cooling demand accounts for the largest share of total energy demand in buildings. Therefore, it is important to identify the main drivers of this demand and to evaluate potential low carbon alternatives to provide heating and cooling.

It is necessary to analyse how heating and cooling will change in different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios and future climate projections. Moreover, it is important to assess the future risks of overheating in buildings and the subsequent effects of increased electricity demand from air conditioning on the power network.

Tyndall Manchester is investigating the implications of climate change for heating and cooling demand in UK buildings. There are multiple PhD projects being undertaken in this area. These include studies of cooling demand in the UK office buildings and the urban heat island effect. We are also developing a model of the University of Manchester campus to analyse potential energy efficiency gains.

Renewable energy

Decarbonising the UK will lead to an increase in the deployment of intermittent and varying renewables (wind, solar, tidal, wave etc). How much electricity and when it is required is also likely to change with the deployment of electric vehicles and electric heat pumps. These changes bring challenges to the electricity system operator in balancing supply and demand.

The potential impacts from climate change on the energy system can be severe in a high carbon future. Tyndall Manchester researchers have explored how daily electricity demand on peak winter and summer days may change over time. Taking account of different penetration levels for air conditioning, heat pumps, electric vehicles and using different assumptions for how temperatures may change as a result of climate change we have explored the implications for the future energy system.

Tyndall Manchester is investigating the whole system impacts of renewables and how new electricity demand and generation technologies may affect the resilience of the electricity grid. We are developing spatial and temporal models to analyse the behaviour of such technologies and how it will impact the grid in different future scenarios. 

Bioenergy

Bioenergy systems will play a key role for many countries in achieving greenhouse gas emissions reduction and renewable energy contribution targets in their transformation to a low-carbon future. Bioenergy is an attractive low-carbon energy option for all stages of development due to its flexibility, versatility and potential for integration with energy networks, infrastructures and interfacing sectors such as agriculture, forestry, waste management and transport.

Tyndall Manchester carries out research on all stages of bioenergy supply chains and systems. This includes how biomass resources are grown and sourced, the conversion technologies for producing energy and bio-products, through to the wider socio-economic and environmental performance, whole system assessment, policy analysis and global challenges.

We actively collaborate with industry, government, and international stakeholders to ensure that bioenergy can provide low carbon energy pathways and mechanisms for achieving sustainable development. Our work is carried out as part of the UK’s Supergen Bioenergy Hub network.   

Carbon capture and storage technology

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a technology that can reduce the emissions from fossil fuel combustion processes by capturing carbon dioxide and storing it indefinitely within large underground geological formations.

CCS provides the potential to limit the emissions from fossil fuel sources during the transition to lower carbon energy sources. Although the components of CCS technologies are well understood, there are few commercial facilities in operation.

Tyndall Manchester is exploring how CCS could contribute to delivering emissions reductions within the UK energy system. We are looking at the wider social and policy implications of the technology, working with stakeholders and members of the public to better understand the potential for this technology to be realised.

Our work has shown that the foundations for a ‘social license to operate’ CCS are present, but that it is dependent on an evolving social, industrial and political landscape. 

Public perception

People are central to our existing unsustainable patterns of consumption, but also to visions for future low carbon, sustainable systems of provision and how they will be realised.

Our public perceptions research explores how different groups experience and interpret low carbon and sustainability transitions. Rather than seeing all proposed transitions as innately positive, it is important to understand how advantages and disadvantages will be distributed and how different groups will experience them. We have explored different views of the uncertainty and risks that the deployment of energy technologies pose, and public perceptions related to water management and food.

Our work for over a decade on multiple energy technologies has been synthesised in the Low Carbon Energy Controversies book. For domestic water consumption, our work with groups at different life stages identified the potential for innovative interventions to improve sustainability. Our work on the potential for a ‘social license’ for carbon capture and storage documents the conditions under which different groups would ‘accept’ the technology. Working with residents from different areas of Greater Manchester we have identified the challenges and opportunities for delivering more sustainable food systems.

Energy storage

Having energy available at the times it is needed requires energy systems to have the capacity to store energy for when it is required, and the flexibility to respond quickly to changes in demand.

With oil, gas and coal energy supplies, the fuel itself provides much of this storage and flexibility. However, as we replace fossil fuels with lower carbon, but more intermittent and less flexible energy sources – such as wind and Solar PV, new forms of energy storage are needed. 

Tyndall Manchester is investigating the environmental implications of new energy storage options across all stages of their life cycles. We are working with multiple stakeholders to better understand how social acceptability, regulations and institutional arrangements will affect the role out of new storage technologies.

Our work has shown that building scale battery storage with rooftop solar PV can provide carbon savings for the building, but further analysis is needed to understand the overall impact for the electricity network.