EPSRC PhD studentship: Low carbon district heating: A socio-technical analysis of evolving social practices, values and relationships



Supervisors: Dr Karen Bickerstaff and Professor Patrick Devine-Wright

We are inviting applications for this EPSRC funded PhD studentship to commence as soon as possible. For eligible students the award will cover UK/EU tuition fees and an annual stipend (in 2013/14 this will be £13,726 for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students) and research costs for three years for students who meet the eligibility requirements outlined by EPSRC (see http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/skills/students/help/Pages/eligibility.aspx). Students from EU countries who do not meet the residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award. Students from outside of the EU would not be eligible for this award.

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding. Studentships will be awarded on the basis of merit.

Successful applicants will be based within Geography (Streatham Campus, Exeter) at the College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter.

Research concerned with decarbonising the UK energy system has, traditionally, tended to focus on innovation and the roll-out of technology. Recent policy developments have, for instance, sought to effect large scale transformation in consumption through the diffusion of efficiency objects and materials (insulation, smart meters, intelligent controls and greater automation). It is an approach which largely discounts the ways such technologies, once in place, have effects – that is, how people actually live with, adapt to or re-purpose new devices – which may well run counter to expert and policy expectations. As such, we have limited research that directly addresses how efficiency and low carbon technologies are shaped by (and shape) different ways of knowing and living, social relationships, and institutional arrangements.

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The production and supply of heat is a key component of the UK transition to a low carbon energy system (e.g. DECC, 2012). This project takes the case of off-grid district heating to explore how low-carbon heating systems, and associated physical and institutional transformations, impact on domestic energy users and the ways they conceptualise and engage with heating infrastructures. 

The case study will be Exeter’s innovative Cranbrook residential development. Building commenced in 2010: some 400 homes have been built, with around 150 currently occupied. Build rates of 400 per year are anticipated and Cranbrook is likely to grow to a total of 7,500 homes. All homes will utilise district heating through biomass combined heat and power.

The PhD will develop a mixed-methods research design, combining interviews, focus group discussions and questionnaire surveys, to:

i) explore routine domestic engagements with a low carbon heating system

ii) explore how the socio-technical features of a low carbon district heating system (e.g. infrastructure components, market arrangements) impinge on social practices, values and relationships

iii) draw theoretical conclusions for the social, technological and institutional configuration – and evolution – of low carbon energy transitions

You must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in a relevant subject (a background in human geography, environmental psychology or sociology and/or relevant experience).

The closing date for applications is midnight on 8th September 2013.

For full project details, instructions on how to apply and a link to the application form, go to the apply button below.

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