Nature Energy: Adapting to Meet our Growing Thirst for Energy
Next generation energy technologies and solutions
Nature Energy is a thematic, online-only journal that explores all aspects of technical and applied sciences, social and behavioural sciences, economics, policy and modelling as they relate to energy. It overlaps with all five pillars of the Springer Nature Grand Challenges programme, exploring approaches to energy generation, storage, distribution and the impact of these on society and the planet.
Covering subjects as wide-ranging as solar energy, biofuels, batteries, energy justice, market economics for technologies and tariffs, and meeting UN SDG targets, Nature Energy is multi-disciplinary at its core. There are parallels between some of the journal’s areas of focus and the UN Sustainable Development Goals framework, in particular SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy, with some of its published research feeding into this area.
Launched in 2016, Nature Energy is a relative newcomer to the Nature Research journals portfolio. Its diverse themes and wide-ranging formats (original research, Reviews, Perspectives, News & Views and Comments) give it appeal to university and government researchers as well as corporate and industry sectors focused on energy provision. It provides a stage for new and experimental approaches to the development of next-generation energy solutions and aims to help all those connected with the field to come together, learn and advance it in sustainable and responsible ways.
“Developing carbon neutral technologies and making better and more rational use of energy and other natural resources have become essential for sustainable development of our society.” (Cen.eu,2018)
Chief Editor, Nicky Dean talks here about the vision for Nature Energy, particularly as it relates to building a more sustainable planet. He explains how the journal underlines the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to successfully address the world’s energy needs. The journal’s social sciences content has grown since its launch and Nicky explains that while Nature-branded journals haven’t traditionally focused on these disciplines, the ground is shifting. His editorial team is engaging with researchers in behavioural, economic and social sciences, with the aim of showcasing important contributions these disciplines make to understanding and driving the energy transition.
Nicky also wants the journal to effect real change through its continued contribution to policy. His hope is that it will contribute to real, measurable change in energy generation and consumption by better connecting policymakers with research and engaging them in the energy debate.
“Nature Energy has a particular interest in studies that advance our knowledge and inform the development of next-generation technologies and solutions.” Nicky Dean
Combining disciplines and professions to achieve sustainable development
While advancing affordable, sustainable energy is one of the journal’s primary goals, its influence extends more broadly across the UN’s framework of Sustainable Development Goals. Last year it published the paper: Mapping synergies and trade-offs between energy and the Sustainable Development Goals. This Perspective piece shows how, when energy is mapped to the 160 SDG targets, 113 of these require action in energy related systems. Nature Energy hopes to play a role in bringing together disciplines and professions to tackle wide-ranging global challenges and help meet these 113 targets.
“Synergies and trade-offs exist in three key domains, where decisions about SDG7 affect humanity’s ability to: realize aspirations of greater welfare and well-being; build physical and social infrastructures for sustainable development; and achieve sustainable management of the natural environment. There is an urgent need to better organize, connect and extend this evidence, to help all actors work together to achieve sustainable development.” (Nature Energy volume 3, pages10–15 (2018))
So, while evolving sources of energy combined with changing human behaviour can positively impact areas as diverse as climate and standards of education, there are almost always trade-offs. Diesel generators, for example, have the potential to put energy into the hands of more global communities, but there are significant climate and health impacts attached. And there’s a raft of other positive and negative health implications of energy - from clean water supplies, hunger alleviation and more reliable vaccination programmes - to pollution and increases in global temperatures. Solar power can play a vital role in the reliable running of healthcare centres in more remote areas, with frequent power cuts in these locations often leading to loss of diagnostic samples, blood and vaccine supplies. Developing new and diverse solutions to this challenge will lead to better global health and wellbeing, and there are already many examples of pilot programmes in solar power delivering more reliable energy supplies to remote healthcare centres. Nature Energy will be publishing a Comment on this subject in July.
Other areas researched and debated by the journal that overlap with the Grand Challenges programme are solutions to societal problems such as higher than average rates of pollution affecting specific socio-economic groups, and the rise of fuel poverty in urban communities. The journal also regularly explores the impact of technology on energy consumption. Recent coverage includes: the combined effect of smart meters and behavioural research to reduce energy consumption; peer-to-peer energy trading; time-of-use payment options; the role of dealerships in electric vehicle adoption; and demand reduction technologies. Current trending articles in Nature Energy that also intersect with several of the UN’s SDGs include: A low energy demand scenario for meeting the 1.5 degree target, scale-up and deployment opportunities for photovoltaics, research and industrial needs for automotive batteries, and Two dimensional metal-organic frameworks.
A pipeline of solutions to the world’s energy supply
Chief Editor, Nicky Dean, has ambitious goals for the future development of the journal. The first of these is to continue to grow interdisciplinary research in the field of energy. This approach is starting to gain traction in academia and Nicky wants to build greater momentum here as well as in industry. He also wants to expand the scope of the journal to appeal to audiences beyond academic researchers:
“We want Nature Energy not only to inform and further global academic research, but also to be a place for industry, NGOs, charities, the business community, and policymakers to come together, debate and collectively agree on realistic, long-term approaches to energy that will work for the global population and the planet as a whole.”
Because energy is such a highly politicised area, Nicky sees an important role of the journal as supporting those outside of academia to make well-informed decisions about policy and deliver practical solutions to energy-related challenges.
Looking to the future, Nicky wants to expand the geographic focus of Nature Energy, not only in terms of its coverage, (it recently published papers on Accelerating investments in power in sub-Saharan Africa and A framework for evaluating geographic disparities in energy transition vulnerability), but also in terms of its readership and author community. Much of the journal’s coverage is focused on the US, Europe and China today. Nicky is keen to see this change because energy-related challenges and appropriate solutions vary substantially across the globe.
“There are many areas, including mobile technology and de-centralised energy systems, where the global north could learn a great deal from practices and approaches in the global south. This is something I would like to see Nature Energy facilitating more of.”
Nicky Dean, Chief Editor, Nature Energy
Nicky joined Nature Research in July 2011 as an editor for Nature Communications, where he handled a broad range of manuscripts across applied and fundamental physics and photonics, including solar cells and light-trapping structures for energy harvesting. He also managed a team of physics and earth sciences editors, before leaving to launch Nature Energy in April 2015. Nicky gained his DPhil from the University of Oxford, where he employed a range of time-resolved techniques, from X-rays down to the terahertz regime, to study ultrafast dynamics in correlated electron materials. His subsequent postdoctoral studies for the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter involved characterizing and controlling the magnetic behaviour of multiferroics using nonlinear optical techniques. Nicky is based in the London office.
This article was written by Emma Warren-Jones, Director of Edible Content, from an interview with Nicky this year.
Cen.eu. (2018). Energy. [online] Available at: https://www.cen.eu/work/areas/energy/Pages/default.aspx [Accessed 14 Jun. 2018].