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Sustainable Energy Supply in the UK Residential Sector: Balancing Environmental Impacts, Security of Supply and Socio-Economic Benefits


PhD Project Details

Project Leader: Professor Adisa Azapagic

Project Duration: February 2010 - January 2013.

Project Overview


Increased density living in UK cities has brought about various changes in the city infrastructure, including the way energy is supplied to residential buildings. The recent trend of 'modal switching' represents one of these changes, whereby electricity rather than natural gas is now typically being used for space and water heating as well as for cooling and cooking. Continued growth in electricity demand has been predicted with the increased use of electricity for heating, cooling and transportation.

Since electricity supplied in the UK is predominantly based on fossil fuels, further growth in demand will contribute to additional significant greenhouse gas and other emissions. However, greater penetration of renewable sources in the future would be expected to reduce greenhouse gases and improve the security of supply through diversification of energy sources. On the other hand, there are concerns that increasing reliance on electricity could lead to fuel poverty for a greater section of society. Thus, at present time, it is not clear whether the modal switch from gas to electricity will contribute to the sustainability or otherwise of energy supply in the UK residential sector.

This research sets out to understand better the implications of the modal switch in the urban residential sector by examining the trade offs between environmental impacts, security of supply and socio-economic cost and benefits. This research will assist stakeholders such as government, developers and utilities with critical decision making and provide tools to assess the sustainability of energy provision to urban dwellings.

Figure 1 | Changes from using gas to electricity is particularly evident in city centre apartment blocks


The research is using tools such as life cycle assessment, life cycle costing, social surveys, emission monitoring and scenario analysis to establish modal switching impacts.

Life cycle case studies are carried out on city apartment blocks considering a range of typical energy supply and utilisation systems including: gas and electricity, district and centralised heat and renewable energy. Stakeholders are consulted through questionnaires and interviews and include: government and policy makers, developers, utilities, manufacturers and householders.

Emissions to the indoor environment from household heating, cooling and cooking are explored using indoor air quality monitoring units. Data from the tests are used to characterise and quantify the emission impacts of energy options and possible consequences of modal switching. Scenario analysis and development up to 2030 and 2050 will contribute towards determining possible energy supply mixes and flows implied by the modal switch with a view of establishing sustainable combinations or routes.

Modal Switching Research Questionnaire

The Modal Switching questionnaire is now live! This questionnaire is intended to explore the reasons and trends in energy supplies to city residential housing and particularly apartments and flats. Participants also have a chance of winning a single £50 Argos voucher! For further information, or to take the questionnaire, please click the link below.

Click here to take the Modal Switching Survey Questionnaire.

For More Information

The primary contact for this project is Dr Roland Sims.

All group members involved in this project: