Wider system view is needed to encompass not only the natural and built components, such as energy resources or infrastructures, but also the societal and institutional elements.
Decarbonisation is a complex challenge involving multiple stakeholders at national, regional and local levels, a feature which the historically top-down governance approach of the UK energy system is still struggling to address. These issues are compounded further when it comes to the subsurface, which by its nature is highly variable and site-specific. As the different attributes of the subsurface dictate which types of energy system can be used at any given site, there can be no one-size fits all approach. Subsurface systems cannot be delineated along administrative boundaries, such as local authority areas, which normally govern above surface development.
Resolving these tensions to bring geological low carbon energy resources into a single economic and decision-making framework will be essential to making the most of the opportunities afforded by the subsurface.
We are helping to facilitate this process through interdisciplinary research, bringing together researchers in geosciences, engineering and social sciences. Expertise within the University’s Sustainability Research Institute and Priestley International Centre for Climate is helping to consider the policy and governance challenges specific to the subsurface. Working closely with our geoscientists ensures that these issues are addressed from the start of any project.
We are collaborating with local authorities in the Yorkshire and Humber region – in particular the city of Leeds – to become a pilot and test bed for low carbon subsurface energy schemes. Leeds is representative of most of the post-industrial cities in the UK, positioned above extensive subsurface mine workings and complex geological formations and with a range of domestic, commercial and industrial energy end users. In addition, the city is adjacent to the Tees valley – host to the largest network of hydrogen infrastructure in Europe – and the Humber estuary, the landing point for the world’s largest offshore wind farm. As such, Leeds has the potential to exploit a variety of energy systems linked to the subsurface – such as geothermal heat extraction or energy storage – and is an ideal place to consider how integration might work in practice.
This EPSRC knowledge transfer project is a collaboration between the University of Leeds, the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult and the Department for International Trade. The project aims to start to integrate circular economy into offshore wind infrastructure design, operation and end-of-use management. A series of outputs will be delivered such as industry and government events, policy and practice briefings, and a framework for circular economy in offshore wind and baseline of current “circular” practices. It also supports knowledge exchange across low-carbon energy and oil & gas and offshore wind sectors, and prepares the ground for a 5-year joint industry partnership on circular economy and wind systems. Lead researcher: Dr Anne Velenturf.