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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R024251/1
Title: Applying thermodynamic laws to the energy-GDP decoupling problem
Principal Investigator: Brockway, Dr P
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Bank of England Calvin College Dept for Bus, Energy & Ind Strat (BEIS)
Higher Technical Institute (IST) INSEAD
Department: School of Earth and Environment
Organisation: University of Leeds
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship
Starts: 29 June 2018 Ends: 30 June 2024 Value (£): 818,171
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Energy Efficiency
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Aerospace, Defence and Marine
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
07 May 2018 Energy Fellowship Interviews May 2018 Announced
06 Dec 2017 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 6 December 2017 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are creating a serious threat to our planet, through their key impact of increasing temperatures. The 2015 Paris climate agreement, signed by 195 countries under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), pledges to hold global average temperature increases to 2 'C above pre-industrial levels (c.1750). For context, in 2015, we passed the 1'C rise mark, and most climate models forecast a 2-4'C temperature rise by 2100, unless real actions are taken to reduce GHG emissions. In short, the situation is serious, and the window for staying within the 2'C target is closing.

To reduce GHG emissions, a key part of government policy is to reduce the amount of energy we use. This is because most of our energy come from fossil fuels (i.e. oil, coal, gas), and burning them causes around 75% of the world's GHG emissions. The main policy for reducing energy use has been introducing energy efficient technologies, i.e. more efficient cars, lighting and heating systems. However, a key problem exists: to date energy efficiency has not reduced total energy consumption: in fact energy use globally is still rising, slightly behind economic output (Gross Domestic Product, GDP). Thus energy use and GDP have remained linked, or 'coupled' together. So a key question for the UK (and globally) is to work out exactly how to decouple energy-GDP: i.e. reduce energy use but allow economic growth.

Studying the energy-GDP decoupling problem is the key aim of my research. Given the short time to reduce GHG emissions, we need to look at this problem from as many different angles as possible. This is where my research fits in: I work in an area of research that provides a different approach to looking at this problem compared to the mainstream (i.e. most common) methods. My research uses 'exergy analysis' to study the thermodynamic efficiency of energy use in a whole economy. Exergy is energy that is 'available for work'. Taking an example to illustrate exergy: though water in a hydroelectric dam has 'potential energy', it only becomes 'available for work' if there is a difference in water level between the two sides of the dam. If one side is 150m higher than the other, then physical 'work' (in this case hydroelectricity) can be extracted, but not if both water levels are 150m high. By studying how much energy is available for work as 'exergy' in an economy (for end uses such as transport, industrial machines, heating, cooling, lighting), we can calculate how (thermodynamically) energy efficient the whole economy is.

This thermodynamic measure of energy efficiency (called exergy efficiency) can give us new insights into how much energy we are actually saving, versus how much we think we are going to save. This difference also tells us how much energy 'rebound' we have, i.e. the energy that is taken back by the economy. A better understanding of the size and role of these two factors - energy efficiency and energy rebound - holds the key to unpicking the energy-GDP decoupling puzzle. This is what my research sets out to achieve.

The research is a five year project, based at the University of Leeds, where I will work with a 4 year PhD researcher and 3 year postdoctoral researcher, and other researchers who will contribute part time expertise. Our research in planned in three parts, 1. we will develop national exergy datasets into a global database, which 2. we will use to identify new insights and links of the key factors (energy efficiency and energy rebound) in the energy-GDP relationship, which lastly 3. will be used to test policies for achieving energy-GDP decoupling. We have several project partners outside of the University of Leeds, who we will work together with on sub-projects: The Bank of England; the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS); Calvin College (USA) and Instituto Superior Técnico (Portugal). A steering group will provide advice during the project.
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Organisation Website: http://www.leeds.ac.uk