Postgraduate research opportunities Just transitions through decentralised utility services, systems, and infrastructure


Key facts

  • Opens: Thursday 31 March 2022
  • Deadline: Monday 30 May 2022
  • Number of places: 1
  • Duration: 3 years
  • Funding: Home fee, Stipend


The proposed PhD will contribute to the academic literature on just transitions, examining how the shift toward increasingly decentralised utility services, systems, and infrastructure (e.g., power, water) provides both opportunities and challenges for delivering a fair and sustainable net-zero future.
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Applicants should have a background covering energy justice, sustainability, transitions studies, or STS. This is not a pure engineering focussed degree, so engineering applicants must also have experience in these other areas.

THE Awards 2019: UK University of the Year Winner
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Project Details

The PhD aims to explicate emerging issues of injustice around decentralised systems of provision and explore routes to mitigate these to inform a fair and sustainable transition to net-zero.

Energy systems around the world are becoming increasingly decentralised with the shift toward renewable power generation, localised power system planning and management practices, uptake of new household grid-interactive technologies (e.g., heat pumps, electric vehicles), and new forms of user engagement (Ford et al, 2021). In Scotland, this trend toward decentralised systems of utility provision is now also being seen with water treatment technologies and systems, in an effort to mitigate challenges associated with the provision of services to remote and rural locations and, contemporaneously, reduce carbon emissions (EP/V030515/1).

While there is no formal definition of what ‘decentralisation’ means, why it is important for decarbonisation, or how different decentralisation pathways imply different social and technological implications for future systems (Thombs, 2019), the literature encourages consideration of a variety of dimension of decentralisation, including hardware and infrastructure, ownership structures, knowledge sharing processes, socio-political power, decision-making authority, and economic market share (Brisbois, 2019). This is particularly important given the likelihood of future utility systems operating at a variety of scales; rather than seeing a fully centralised or fully decentralised system of the future, it is likely that future system will combine centralised and decentralised elements (Di Silvestre et al, 2018; Judson et al., 2020).

These elements, incorporating the socio-economic landscape, organisational factors in the regime, individual motives and characteristics, as well as availability and use of new technologies, impacts the degree to which future utility systems may support the delivery of a “just” transition. Such systems, while typically supporting more widespread participation and engagement by households and communities, are not “just” by default, but are instead shaped by many factors acting at different scales from the individual level to the international (Knox et al, 2022).

The student will use insights emerging from the Decentralised Water Technologies Programme Grant (EP/V030515/1), and the Prospering from the Energy Revolution (PFER) projects, as well as the ongoing activities of Glasgow City Council through the Sustainable Glasgow hubs, to explore:

  1. how pathways toward decentralised systems of provision are characterised in terms of both technical and non-technical elements
  2. the role of citizens, households, communities, and organisations in these emerging decentralised systems
  3. the potential sources of injustice across multiple scales (from individual to international), drawing on the energy justice and just transition literatures
  4. mechanisms by which future design of decentralised systems could drive a just transition to net-zero, and a blueprint for rolling this out on a wider scale

The research will include an exploration (and extension) of theoretical frameworks to situate the research within the wider academic literature. Methods will incorporate analysis of secondary data (e.g., via systematic review of the existing literature and of the insights emerging from the wider PFER and related programme) as well as primary data collection (e.g., via interviews, case studies, and other innovative methods) to help explore the values, needs, barriers and opportunities as perceived by different actors and stakeholders, including Local Authorities.

The student will join the active and growing interdisciplinary cross-Faculty Net Zero Transitions research group led by Rebecca Ford, and will benefit from integrating with researchers involved in the Programme Grant and PFER projects. The student will also be affiliated with the Global Environmental Monitoring and Policy (GEMaP) SCDT, which is focused on climate-resilient water provision and policy.

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Dr Rebecca Ford

Senior Lecturer

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Dr Jennifer Roberts

Senior Lecturer
Civil and Environmental Engineering

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Professor Keith Bell

Electronic and Electrical Engineering

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Candidates interested in applying should first email Dr Rebecca Ford ( with their CV, academic transcript, and a covering letter outlining their suitability for the position.

Once the deadline for applications closes we will run a shortlisting and interview process to allocate the PhD studentship.

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