Postgraduate research opportunities Smart and fair? The (in)justices of smart, low-carbon energy solutions for UK homes


Key facts

  • Opens: Monday 29 January 2024
  • Deadline: Wednesday 3 April 2024
  • Number of places: 1
  • Duration: 36 months
  • Funding: Home fee, Travel costs, Stipend


Affordable smart low-carbon solutions therefore need to be implemented more swiftly, and at greater scale, if the UK is to achieve net-zero. Where progress is being made, it is often higher-income, owner occupier households that are driving adoption and enjoying the reductions in bills they afford. This PhD examines where (in)justices currently reside in the UK’s deployment of smart, low-carbon solutions, and the underpinning factors responsible for these.
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  • A background in social science (business and management, economics, sociology or any other cognate discipline) with a first or 2:1 UK Honours degree, or overseas equivalent. We also welcome applicants with an engineering or science background, who demonstrate a strong interest in the topic
  • A Masters degree or equivalent work experience in a relevant subject will be strongly preferred
  • A strong understanding of:
    • energy markets, business models, policy and regulation
    • energy and social justice
    • low-carbon and smart energy solutions
    • fuel poverty
  • excellent analytical skills and a demonstrable aptitude to undertake research and develop into an independent researcher
  • excellent qualitative research methods, especially documentary analysis, interviews, workshop and/or focus groups. Also, quantitative skills to manipulate larger datasets and undertake basic statistics are desirable.
  • excellent written and oral English language skills (see the application page for minimum test scores if English is not your first language).
  • excellent interpersonal skills and a proven ability to build strong working relationships.

Strathclyde Business School is committed to supporting a diverse and inclusive postgraduate research population. We make decisions on entry by assessing the whole person and not relying solely on academic achievements. On that basis, please ensure that your application (via your CV and covering letter) can evidence your resourcefulness, commitment and resilience as demonstrated by broader professional and life experiences. This evidence should be centred on your ability to undertake and complete a PhD and contribute to a positive PhD community.  

If English isn't your first language, you'll need an IELTS score of 6.5 or equivalent with no individual element below 5.5.  

Your application must include:  

  • an updated curriculum vitae  
  • details of two academic referees, including email addresses  
  • academic transcripts, which must be certified copies  
THE Awards 2019: UK University of the Year Winner
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Project Details

UK homes account for 17% of carbon emissions and remain stubbornly high. To deliver on its 2050 carbon targets, the UK needs to retrofit 97% of its 28 million homes by 2040 (UKGBC 2021), given that 60% of its homes are highly inefficient (i.e. EPC-standard C or lower) and 88% of UK homes rely on gas boilers (MfHCLG 2022).

Affordable low-carbon solutions therefore need to be implemented swiftly and at scale. However, the installation of many of the most critical Smart, Low-Carbon Domestic Energy Solutions (SLCDES) – including smart meters, smart appliances, electricity storage, heat pumps and electric vehicles – are mostly not keeping pace with government targets.

At the same time, we find that higher-income, owner occupier households are typically the ones driving adoption of SLCDES and enjoying the reductions in bills they afford. Conversely, millions of lower-income households are being locked-out of the domestic smart energy revolution (Citizens Advice 2023) and are having to endure record energy bills as result. Common obstacles include a lack of finance, knowledge, agency (e.g. tenure) and infrastructure (e.g. smart meter) (ibid).

Employing a mixed methods approach to mobilise an energy justice conceptual framework, this PhD examines where (in)justices currently reside in the deployment of SLCDES in the UK, and the underpinning factors responsible for these. Its core aim is to identify and stress-test the types of market and policy interventions that could tackle smart energy injustices and help to ensure that all households are able to benefit from the smart energy revolution.

The successful candidate will work closely with NEA to design and conduct the research, as well as disseminate the findings to maximize its impact. The PhD offers an excellent opportunity for the student to conduct impactful research, in partnership with leading energy stakeholders.

Research Objectives

This PhD poses the question: how can energy markets and policy frameworks be re-structured to ensure that the adoption of Smart, Low-Carbon Domestic Energy Solutions (SLCDES) delivers a fairer transition to net-zero?

It examines the following:

  1. Which households are currently accessing SLCDES in the UK and why?
  2. What benefits and drawbacks have UK households enjoyed, or missed out on, as a result?
  3. Which factors are enabling or blocking household access to SLCDES?
  4. What are the (in)justices of SLCDES adoption across UK households?
  5. What policy and market changes are needed to ensure that SLCDES are more widely and fairly available to UK households?

The objectives of the PhD will be as follows:

  • Identify the breadth and depth of (in)justices of SLCDES and their UK demographic and geographic distribution
  • Understand how SLCDES adoption can serve to raise or lower levels of social justice
  • Understand the factors driving (in)justices associated with SLCDES, for different types of households and regions
  • Formulate practical policy and market recommendations to devise a more socially equitable approach to the deployment of SLCDES for the UK and beyond

The research employs a “T-model” approach; balancing empirical breadth and depth. The following qualitative and quantitative data are targeted to answer the research questions:

  • Q1: Statistical analysis of existing datasets and/or own survey data to assess the geographical and demographic distribution of SLCDES adoption. Potential too for regression analysis to establish correlation between independent variables with SLCDES adoption. Data includes the MCS dashboard for MCS accredited deployment of micro-generation assets, Smart Energy GB’s Outlook Tracker survey for smart meter deployment and finally, the UK Government’s Household Energy Efficiency Statistics, Home Upgrade Grant, Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery and Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund databases for energy efficiency deployment. Where possible, spatially disaggregated UK deployment data will be analysed using GIS, following a similar methodology as applied by Hannon in the recent paper: “Who Applies For Energy Grants?” (Owen et al. 2023).
  • Q2-Q4: Qualitative examination via householder and stakeholder (e.g. energy charities, technology providers, energy utilities, policy makers) interviews to understand the (dis)benefits of (non)adoption, as well as the factors that have enabled or blocked uptake. Locally-focused case studies will be formulated to offer a place-based perspective on the breadth and depth of smart energy (in)justices.
  • Q5: Workshops to formulate and stress-test solutions to the most prevalent energy (in)justices associated with smart energy adoption. These will operate at both the local and regional/national level, to understand where solutions could be implemented at different levels of government.
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Funding details

Fully-funded scholarship for three years covers all university tuition fees (at UK level) and an annual tax-free stipend. International students are also eligible to apply, but they will need to find other funding sources to cover the difference between the home and international tuition fees. Exceptional international candidates may be provided funding for this difference. 

The PhD is part-funded by Affordable Warmth Solutions (AWS) with contribution from the Malcolm Wicks Memorial Fund and delivered in partnership with National Energy Action (NEA) – the UK’s leading fuel poverty charity - and examines where (in)justices currently reside in the UK’s deployment of smart, low-carbon solutions, and the underpinning factors responsible for these.

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Professor Hannon

Professor Matthew Hannon

Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship

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Dr Cairns

Dr Iain Cairns

Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship

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Number of places: 1

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Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship

Programme: Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship

Start date: Oct 2024 - Sep 2025