Energy transitions: a systemic approach

Call for stage one proposals and announcement of funding.

This post is also available in Swedish

Funding announcement and call for Stage 1 proposals

The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (Mistra) invites research groups, jointly with relevant stakeholders in the community, to share their vision for a new research programme. The proposals submitted must address significant environmental challenges facing society and promote long-term solutions. This call focuses on transforming the energy sector, eliminating emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases through a comprehensive change in the energy mix, behaviour and infrastructure.

Two-stage process

Proposals in response to this call will be evaluated in two stages. In Stage 1, applicants should submit a five-page proposal for evaluation by an international panel. Stage 2 is by invitation only.

Planning grants of up to SEK 150,000 will be available for the groups invited to submit Stage 2 proposals.

Background

Pursuant to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the Swedish Government has adopted a target of achieving a society with net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by the year 2045. To reach this target, the various sectors of society will need to eliminate or offset their GHG emissions. To meet the overarching objective of a fossil-free society, a transition from the current energy-intensive industrial system is called for. This will require a system perspective, new societal structures, transformative approaches and introduction of new technologies, some of which have not been developed, or perhaps even thought of, to date.

In the Swedish and European context, a number of public and private initiatives are under way to prepare society for the transformation of the energy system. These initiatives have produced, or are expected soon to produce, reports describing the problems that lie ahead and proposing some potential solutions. These reports provide important insights into how different sectors of society view the current situation and how it may be addressed.

As a step towards meeting the above-mentioned challenges, Mistra asked an international expert group to prepare a background paper on the topic. This paper highlights some central challenges and areas of research, and serves to bring about discussion.

Focus

Most current research funding in Sweden tends to focus either on purely technological issues or, to a lesser extent, on questions that fall squarely within the boundaries of the social sciences . We envision a programme that more clearly recognises and addresses the connections among various pathways of future energy-system development, drawing on an array of research fields working together on inter- and transdisciplinary research.

The research programme should address and recognise the multifaceted nature of the energy challenge. This requires a systemic view spanning the entire technological spectrum of the energy system, from demand to distribution of energy carriers, energy conversion and supply, and new technologies such as artificial intelligence. We believe that exploring drivers of demand for energy services, institutional aspects of innovation and similar non-technical aspects can add value compared with other research efforts in the area.

The Stage 1 proposal must clearly define the strategic environmental problems to be addressed, and include an account of how the research results are expected to help solve problems. Goal conflicts among sustainable development goals may also be important to consider in this context. Benefits and relevance for Swedish competitiveness should be described.

The background paper identifies several potential research areas, some of which should be addressed in the envisaged research programme:

  1. Energy demand
    Electricity and district heating are essentially free from GHG emissions in Sweden. However, demand optimisation may generate an energy surplus that can be used to reduce GHG emissions in other sectors. Motivating various sectors of society to achieve this optimisation will be challenging, since the argument of resulting reductions in GHG emissions may not convince them.
  2. Developing infrastructure
    Efficient systems for production, distribution and storage of energy, based on those in place today, need to be developed. Launching new production entities in the form of prosumers involves both opportunities and challenges. The new infrastructure will need to be rapidly adaptive, since energy demands may become more dynamic while production is tending to become more volatile. Coupling of sectors in new ways will be essential, as will decoupling of others. The question of how to maintain a more variable system will arise.
  3. Prosperity
    As long as current administrative structures persist, there will be little incentive to drastically change the system. The role of government at both national and international levels is essential to promote the transition required. Use of incentives, new business opportunities and other benefits need to be understood if the energy sector is to be transformed in a manner conducive to Swedish competitiveness.
  4. Just transition
    Given the goals defined and the time schedule set, it is essential for all sectors of society to concert their forces. The uneven distribution of incentives, costs and workloads must be addressed to avoid possible conflicts, which may bring counterproductive outcomes. Various tools, such as pricing, tariffs, taxes and rewards, require clear policies to ensure a fair distribution of burdens across society.
  5. Progress
    Knowledge of the impact of GHG emissions from fossil fuels on climate has been available since 1966 for the coal industry and 1972 for the oil industry. Nevertheless, society continues to make little headway in implementing policies to cut these emissions. Research findings and innovations need to be implemented with greater urgency, and this requires supportive legislation.
  6. Digital enablers
    The emergence of the Internet, various sensors, data collection and above all artificial intelligence has huge potential to help accelerate a transition to an energy-effective society.

Who can apply

This call addresses research groups in all academic disciplines working at Swedish higher education institutions, research institutes, government agencies and companies, and also in the public sector and civil society. Researchers and organisations active outside Sweden may participate, but the principal applicant and planned programme host must be a Swedish organisation.

Application process and review

This call for research programme proposals consists of two stages. The Stage 1 proposal, not exceeding five pages in length, should be written in English and will be evaluated by an international evaluation panel. In addition to the five-page proposal, a maximum of CVs for up to five key people should be attached (maximum of one page per person).

Key concepts in focus for the evaluation of Stage 1 proposals are transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary approachesstrategic environmental problems addressed and a systemic perspective.

Stage 1 proposals are expected to include the following sections:

  1. Vision, aims and expected impacts
  2. Relevance for strategic environmental problems
  3. Outline of the consortium including programme host and actors

Evaluation criteria

The following criteria will be applied:

  1. Approach, i.e. how far the programme has a central, coherent idea and an innovative direction.
  2. Research proficiency.
  3. Societal impact.
  4. Management and organisation, i.e. an outline of how the programme will be managed and structured.

The international evaluation panel will review the Stage 1 proposals submitted. Based on their recommendations, Mistra’s Board will invite a small number of applicants to submit full programme proposals. Submission of Stage 2 proposals is thus by invitation only. Grants of up to SEK 150,000 will be made available as a contribution to the cost of preparing the Stage 2 proposals.

Note that Mistra is subject to GDPR legislation and the principle of public access to official records. This means that all documents received by Mistra, including research proposals, are public. For more information, see Mistra’s data privacy policy.

Time schedule

2020
10 February     Call for stage 1 proposals opens
8 April               Call for stage 1 proposals closes
April-May          Evaluation of stage one proposals by an international panel
June                    Decision by Mistra’s Board on issue of invitations to submit Stage 2 proposals
15 October        Stage 2 proposals must be submitted
November         Evaluation of Stage 2 proposals by an international panel
December         Award decision to be taken by Mistra’s Board

2021
March                  Programme start (preliminary)

Relevant material

The European Green Deal, Brussels, 11.12.2019 COM(2019) 640, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/european-green-deal-communication_en.pdf

In Swedish:

Accelerera energiomställningen för ett hållbart samhälle” (‘Accelerate the energy transition for a sustainable society’), https://www.regeringen.se/4adaf7/contentassets/839904375fb64140a06616e4c0eb5450/energimyndigheten.pdf

Näringslivets kraftsamling för elförsörjningen” (‘Business sector’s concerted forces for electricity supply’), https://www.svensktnaringsliv.se/fragor/elforsorjning/

Högre elanvändning 2045” (‘Higher electricity use by 2045’), https://www.svensktnaringsliv.se/fragor/miljo-energi-klimat/hogre-elanvandning-ar-2045-samhallsutvecklingen-och-klimatomstall_746596.html

Färdplan el – för ett fossilfri samhälle” (‘Electricity road map for a fossil-free society’), (https://www.energiforetagen.se/sa-tycker-vi/energiforetagen-arbetar-for-ett-fossilfritt-sverige/fardplan-el–for-ett-fossilfritt-samhalle/)