Postgraduate research opportunities

Smart local energy systems for a net-zero future

A 36-month full-time, fully-funded PhD focused on socio-technical sustainability transitions, exploring pathways and processes to mainstream successful smart local energy system innovation projects in a value driven (as opposed to grant driven) environment.

Number of places



Home fee, Stipend


23 March 2021


3 May 2021


36 months


All applications welcome. However, those candidates with ‘overseas’ fee status would be required to cover the difference between the Home and ‘overseas’ fees for the duration of the studentship.

To be considered for the project, candidates must possess an upper second (2.1) Bachelors or Masters degree in a relevant field, for example, science and technology studies, sociology, social policy, business studies, sustainable development studies, or other subject areas where you can demonstrate the requisite skills.

This PhD will involve interdisciplinary research, and therefore we are seeking candidates who are interested to work in this type of environment, and who can articulate why they believe they have the skill set to do this.

Project Details

Energy systems around the world are becoming increasingly reliant on decentralised renewable or low carbon generation resources, experiencing new types of loads, and seeing the demand side engage in new ways. Aligned with these changes is a push toward digitalisation and increasing sophistication of automation (e.g., artificial intelligence) used to provide system services. This “smartness” is driving exponential growth in the scale and diversity of data, presenting opportunities and challenges in equal measure.


In recent years there have been a significant number of demonstration projects exploring smarter and more localised systems of energy provision. While these demonstration projects are key to support innovation related to decentralisation and digitalisation, there is a danger that critical learnings will be missed; most projects are focussing on delivering project specific learning, they pay limited attention to the wider societal or policy context, share only positive outcomes (rather than helping others learn from what doesn’t work), and fail to contribute intellectually or theoretically to the broader socio-technical transition that they are helping to deliver. However, this learning is critical to support rapid and widescale roll out – as opposed to more confined replication – of smart local energy systems (SLES).


The proposed PhD project will explore two key issues: (1) how widescale socio-technical transition toward SLES can be enabled by considering co-evolutionary interactions between energy system elements (e.g. technologies, supply chains, infrastructures, firms, markets, user practices, cultural meanings, institutions) in a value driven vs grant drive environment; and (2) the role of different stakeholders in delivering this – how does the potential to capture value align with existing priorities, commitments, capabilities, and governance structures?


Methods will incorporate analysis of secondary data (e.g., via systematic review of academic and grey literature) as well as primary data collection, (e.g., via interviews, case studies) to explore values, needs, barriers and opportunities as perceived by different stakeholders.


Findings will contribute to the literature on sustainability transitions, delivering novelty in how forward-looking transitions are understood, particularly when positioned in terms of aligning combinations of niches to enhance value across a range of priority outcome areas. This will inform policy at local and national levels.

Funding Details

Funding is provided for full tuition fees for Home candidates (those candidates with ‘overseas’ fee status would be required to cover the difference between the Home and ‘overseas’ fees for the duration of the studentship) along with a generous stipend for 3 years (£15,609 for 21/22 academic year).


The primary supervisor will be Dr Rebecca Ford, a lecturer based between the Centre for Energy Policy in the School of Government and Public Policy, and the Institute for Energy and Environment in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. Dr Ford’s research interests include impactful and applied research on how to deliver a sustainable, net-zero energy future, bringing together different disciplinary perspectives to enhance knowledge and inform more effective policy making.


The secondary supervisor will be Professor Stephen McArthur, a professor in the Institute for Energy and Environment. Professor McArthur’s work focuses on intelligent system applications in energy, covering condition monitoring, diagnostics and prognostics, active network management and wider smart grid applications.

How to apply

Candidates interested in applying should first email to set up an informal discussion. Thereafter, they should submit their CV, academic transcript, and a covering letter outlining their suitability for the position and describing the skills they have developed that support the delivery of an interdisciplinary PhD in this area. Following review of the application submissions, selected candidates will be invited for interview.


Application submission deadline is 3 May 2021. The project will start on 1st October 2021.