Integrating urban form and sociotechnical potentials of decentralised energy supply

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Nahid Mohajeri is a Swiss National Science Foundation Mobility Fellow, visiting the University of Oxford from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) where she is a Research Associate and lecturer. Nahid completed her PhD in Geography from University College London in 2013, focusing on developing innovative methods and techniques for analysing urban patterns and relating those to sustainability with policy implications.

Her multi-disciplinary research activities include: sustainable urban development; qualitative and quantitative research methods in urban studies; renewable energy resources and energy policy, and urban energy modelling, visualization and big data analytics.

Whilst in Oxford, Nahid will be working on a project integrating urban form and sociotechnical potentials of decentralised energy supply for sustainable urban development.

Project outline

Both Switzerland and the United Kingdom (UK) have ambitious goals for increasing their use of renewable energy and reducing CO2 emissions. In particular, the Swiss Energy Strategy 2050 aims at phasing out of nuclear energy by 2035 and a possible 50-80% reduction in CO2 emission by 2050. Similarly, the UK aims at obtaining 15% of its energy consumption from renewable resources by 2020, as well cut its CO2 emissions in 2050, from the present value, by 80%. These aims can only be reached through a great increase in the production of renewable energy. One way to do so is building large solar farms in rural areas. Another, and complementary, way is to increase the on-site solar-energy production in urban areas, an idea that forms a major part in the concept of decentralized energy supply. The term ‘decentralised energy supply’ means that the energy is produced close to, or at, the site where the energy is used.

Decentralising of the urban energy supply, particularly through the use of PVs, requires a comprehensive assessment of their sociotechnical and techno-economic co-evolution. The project therefore aims not only (a) to improve and refine our knowledge of the resource and technical PV potential for Switzerland and the UK, with application to other areas (e.g., Africa), but also (b) to analyse how solar energy technologies and associated social acceptance and affordability evolve together, and (c) how their co-evolution may affect sustainable urban development and energy policies. More specifically, the project aims at exploring (i) the effects of physical urban forms, particularly urban density and the shapes of rooftops, at national scale on the efficiency of energy production through PVs, and to connect urban forms to (ii) different sociotechnical aspects of decentralised electricity production and (iii) and to the associated socio-economic parameters (costs, acceptance, affordability, etc.), as well as (iv) to the energy policies of the local energy production. The results will be analysed within the framework of the projected climate scenarios for 2035 and 2050.