As a step towards achieving the UK’s net-zero target, funding announced this week will enable engineers, social scientists and natural scientists to conduct vital research on global energy challenges and their implications for the UK.

The fourth phase of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) will see £22 million allocated to UK institutions to undertake research on the decarbonisation of key sectors such as industry, transport and heat, and explore the role of local, national and global changes in energy systems. The Energy Programme of Oxford's ECI (Environmental Change Institute) were a founding partner for phase 1 back in 2004 and have continued to be a core member ever since.

Dr Christian Brand, Senior Research Fellow and Associate Professor at the ECI and the Transport Studies Unit, is co-lead together with Professor Jillian Anable at the University of Leeds for the ‘Energy for Mobility’ theme, which will receive £1.7 million.

“I’m very excited to co-lead the Energy for Mobility theme with Jillian Anable and acutely aware of the enormity of the #netzero task ahead,” said Christian. “This decade is absolutely crucial for our very mobile and connected society to get to grips with the zero carbon, clean energy challenge. Working with our prolific partners from policy, industry and NGOs, UKERC’s whole systems approach will guide six core research projects in this theme on: electric vehicle/grid readiness over time and space; the planning and governance of ‘fully electric’ housing; ecosystem services impacts of transport electrification; the role of global production networks in transport decarbonisation, and the geopolitics of biofuels for aviation and shipping.”

Christian will lead the project looking at air quality and ecosystem services impacts of transport electrification, while Dr Gavin Killip, a Researcher at the ECI, will lead the work on ‘fully electric’ housing. Christian will also be directly involved in the research in two other areas: electric vehicle grid readiness, which will involve collaboration with CREDS (Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions) and their project on ‘Modelling Flexibility over time, mode, place’; and aviation, shipping and the geopolitics of biofuels.

Hosted by UCL, UKERC encompasses 17 universities, the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Chatham House and the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies and is funded through the UKRI Energy Programme by UKRI’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council.

UKRI is providing £18 million support for the fourth phase of UKERC, with partners contributing £4 million.

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said: “Moving the UK to a sustainable and resilient energy system that delivers on our net zero ambitions requires collaboration, better data and expertise across the research and innovation ecosystem.

“UKERC plays an important role in supporting this transition, delivering world-class research, facilitating national and international collaboration and generating evidence that informs real-world major policy decisions.”

UKERC’s research programme will build evidence to inform decisions that shape the UK's transition towards a net zero energy system and economy. It will explore the potential economic, political, social and environmental costs and benefits of energy system change, and consider how these impacts can be distributed equitably. UKERC will also host and curate energy data, map and monitor public engagement, carry out systematic evidence reviews and improve the transparency and understanding of energy models.

UK Energy Research Centre Director, Dr Robert Gross, said: “The UK’s net zero emissions target for 2050 requires urgent and ambitious action now, particularly by government.

“UKERC already has a strong international reputation for ground breaking interdisciplinary research on the transformation of energy systems. This new phase of funding will enable us to implement an exciting new agenda of research and engagement, and to inform the decisions that need to be made over the next five years.”

UKERC will also continue to support the wider energy research community by facilitating engagement with other stakeholders, supporting career development and capacity building, and enhancing international collaboration.