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The University of Oxford today announces the launch of the multi-disciplinary ZERO Institute (Zero-carbon Energy Research Oxford) to tackle the challenges of an equitable, secure global zero-carbon energy transition.
Bringing together leading academics from a range of disciplines, the Institute will address the questions surrounding zero-carbon energy systems and their implementation.
The transition from carbon-based energy to zero-carbon energy will play the crucial role in achieving the Paris Agreement’s global warming limits. Currently, more than 70% of the greenhouse gases responsible for a changing climate come from converting and using energy.
Professor Patrick Grant, Oxford Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research), says, ‘International and national assessments agree that practical solutions to the climate crisis will involve increased use of renewable energy sources, storing the energy effectively, and using it efficiently. Only by doing this can we supply everyone in the world with the energy services needed to live well and to stop climate change. The university is rising to the challenge of zero-carbon energy systems by investing in the ZERO Institute to help coordinate and increase the reach of our ever growing zero-carbon energy research.’
ZERO will build on the University’s extensive energy research activities, which span more than 20 departments and 200 researchers. It aims to establish Oxford as a centre of research excellence and thought leadership on a global and equitable zero-carbon transition and has secured a £3.25m investment from the University’s Strategic Research Fund (SRF).
The goal of ZERO is to accelerate the transition to a just zero-carbon energy system. Achieving this requires systems thinking as well as the development and adoption of new technologies and infrastructure. In addition, innovation will be required in business models, institutions, policy and society.
Launch co-heads of the Institute are Professors Nick Eyre and Malcolm McCulloch.
Professor Malcolm McCulloch, Department of Engineering Science, says, ‘This challenge requires a major transformation in global energy conversion and use, requiring systemic change in the energy sector, transport and buildings, and therefore in technology and society. In complexity and reach, the zero-carbon transition will be a change of the same magnitude as the Industrial Revolution.’
Professor Nick Eyre, Environmental Change Institute, says, ‘The history of energy system change shows it is closely associated with social change, and the timeframe for the zero-carbon transition closely matches that for delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The zero-carbon transition will therefore need to ensure delivery of basic energy services globally, and radical changes in energy using practices worldwide. This implies major challenges for governance, in particular related to equity, which are closely linked to the technical challenges. Research, therefore, needs to be inter-disciplinary and take a whole system approach.’
Many of the potential components of a zero-carbon energy system (such as demand reduction, renewable energy conversion, energy storage and nuclear power) have been researched over many decades. However, the concept of a zero-carbon system (without fossil fuels) has only really gained traction with policymakers since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015.
Academic leadership will include Associate Professor Robert Weatherup from the Department of Materials, Associate Professor Radhika Khosla from the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment and the Convenor for Oxford Energy Robin Morris.
Find out more about the Zero Institute at zero.ox.ac.uk