University of Oxford: New cross-sector sustainable energy transition hub opens with energy crisis forum

On Thursday 26 May Oxford University’s brand new £3.25m Zero-carbon Energy Research Oxford (ZERO) Institute and Energy Systems Accelerator pilot (Mini-TESA) opened their doors to showcase the range and depth of ambition in Oxford to drive forward the energy systems transition for the UK and globally.

Attending the event were 200 stakeholders from across policy, energy and academic sectors including Barbara Hammond MBE (CEO of the Low Carbon Hub), Andrew Roper (Director of Distribution System Operations, SSEN), Councillor Liz Leffman (Leader of Oxfordshire County Council) and Nigel Tipple (Chief Executive, OxLEP, Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership).

Mini-TESA, based at Osney Mead near Oxford train station, is a progressive co-working space which began operating at the start of the year. It houses the University’s MSc in Energy Systems, hosts up to 100 workstations for Oxford University and external staff and is home to an ideas-exchange hub where different disciplines and organisations can develop radical thinking.

By facilitating industry and academic collaboration across all energy vectors (electricity, heat and mobility), new approaches to an equitable energy transition can be accelerated and deployed at scale. This will drive innovation in low carbon technologies and services nationally and internationally, helping to ensure the UK meets its legally-binding carbon targets.

Professor Nick Eyre, Director of the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions and Co-Director of ZERO Institute, said: ‘To stop climate change, we need to move away from fossil fuels by mid-century. This will require transformation in the ways we capture, convert, store and use energy. It’s an unprecedented challenge.’

Professor Malcolm McCulloch, Head of Energy and Power Group, founder of YASA motors and Co-Director of ZERO Institute, said: ‘This launch of both the ZERO Institute and of mini-TESA is an exciting milestone to realising the ambition of Oxford University to play its role in helping the global transition to a zero-carbon energy future. The institute convenes an exceptional group of minds to address the problem and mini-TESA provides a place to accelerate the translation to real world innovation.’

Dr Andy Gilchrist, Low Carbon Energy Partnerships, University of Oxford, said: ‘To deliver a zero-carbon world, the way our energy system moves energy to and between all consumers will need to change radically. And to make this challenge even harder, our energy system must evolve extremely rapidly and without interrupting supply. It’s undoubtedly humanity’s biggest ever challenge.’

Now operational, mini-TESA houses two University research groups, the Low Carbon Hub (a social enterprise), and a team from Scottish and Southern Energy Networks (the local electricity distributor). It also has hot-desking spaces and is hosting large-scale ‘SPRINTS’, where stakeholders can come together to focus minds, with the aim of identifying pathways to smooth the energy transition in an equitable manner. These SPRINTS will be a regular feature of ZERO Institute and mini-TESA, as importance of this deep and rapid approach to problem-solving has only intensified with the cost-of-living crisis amid the global instability caused by the war in Ukraine and the associated sanctions.

Once the pilot has proved to be successful and further funding is secured, the full TESA will incorporate a 10,000m2 international facility where up to 800 practitioners, stakeholders and academics can work and interact, maximising creativity. The full TESA is set to be net-carbon negative and located in the new Innovation District, that is regenerating the West End of Oxford.

The ZERO Institute 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).

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