The Oxford Martin School Programme for Integrating Renewable Energy (INTEGRATE) at the University of Oxford was a six-year research programme that addressed the technical, economic, social and governance challenges associated with a clean energy transition.
The programme aimed to provide frameworks for both governments and industries to integrate renewable energy sources into the mainstream, in order to help them achieve targets on carbon emissions. The programme provided a regular collaborative space for many of the Oxford-based ICLSG partners to gather and build the foundations of a flourishing collaboration, with many innovative projects spinning out.
INTEGRATE undertook a ‘whole systems’ approach and looked beyond technology, to look at the whole energy system, bringing together people from different perspectives to address these challenges. Regular seminars were hosted to discuss active research and collaborative projects, and were both led and joined by people from industry, government and academia. These seminars provided a place for all to ask basic questions, break down concepts, and build a foundational understanding of a wide array of disciplines. This translation amongst economists, engineers, lawyers and physicists (amongst others) facilitated the collaborative work that was necessary to realise the programme’s systems approach.
The research can be broken into four categories:
The large-scale deployment of renewable energy poses challenges to the task of balancing electricity supply and demand. To address this challenge, there is considerable interest in demand-side engagement and the potential to support system balancing by securing demand response, that is, encouraging consumers to shift their electricity demand in time, usually in response to an electricity price signal. The conceptual ‘demand response space’ consists of three dimensions that can, in various combinations, provide demand response.
- The ‘technology change’ dimension represents demand response that is provided solely by technology change, such as replacing a conventional fridge with a smart one that can respond automatically e.g. turn itself for short periods.
- The ‘service expectation change’ dimension represents people being flexible in their expectations, such as altering thermostat settings, or eating a cold meal rather than a hot one.
- The ‘activity change’ dimension represents the potential for people to be flexible in the timing of their activities, for example, turning on the washing machine at a different time.
Markets & innovation
Integrating renewable energy resources into electricity grids in a way that is affordable, secure, and reliable is an enormous challenge. To achieve this, the INTEGRATE team worked on developing a deeper understanding of the markets, institutions, and regulatory structures governing electricity systems. Their research included economic analysis, systems modelling, empirical research, and political economy analyses focusing on two related areas: system and market design and innovation.
The inherent variable nature of renewable sources and the requirement to establish a stable electrical grid system requires new ways to manage and store energy. The programme addressed storage challenges across four time scales: real-time; intraday (energy within the day); interday (across days); and seasonal. And looked at how the current storage technologies might evolve to meet the demands of performance (e.g. lifetime, efficiency and operational flexibility) and cost, as well as what disruptive new technologies might be possible in the future. The programme addressed the future potential and likely technical developments in the storage space towards each of these time scales.
Policy & regulation
The systemic nature of the energy transition, including changes to policy and regulation, but also the actors involved in the system, constitutes a change in energy governance. The programme addressed governance and policy challenges and their potential solutions by looking at some of the fundamentals of energy governance. For example, researchers used insights from the wider governance literature on common pool resources to rethink how electricity grids might be governed. They also used specific case studies, at a range of scales, to understand how energy governance is changing in practice in response to the pressures of the transition to renewables. For example, they looked at potential policy arrangements for heat in the UK in high renewables scenarios.
In 2021 INTEGRATE published a synthesis report which showcases the programme’s findings and links to more information and resources. The key messages were:
- Solar and wind are becoming the cheapest forms of electricity generation and will be key to a low carbon energy system, together with storage and flexibility;
- Use of renewable energy will depend critically on integrating variable generation into electricity networks;
- Any solution will involve a mix of flexible generation, flexible demand, inter-connection and storage; and
- Changes are urgently needed to energy market design, regulation and governance to accelerate decarbonisation and the ability to meet Net Zero emissions by 2050.