Intensive teaching

IMG_6739.JPGEvonne Baltrock-Nitzsche started the MSc in October 2019. She reflects on the November ‘teaching week’ in her first term.

“The intensive teaching week for MSc Energy and Society students was a highly engaging period to really focus on the technical aspects of modern energy developments, and their sociopolitical implications. We were guest lectured in a variety of topics, including solar, the debates around the sourcing of unconventional hydrocarbons such as shale gas, why generating electricity through offshore wind requires more support, and how the national grid must adapt to such changes. Anthropological study of the poverty caused by installing Ethiopia’s hydroelectric damn in the Oma basin, and the history of coal in the North East also provided more social contexts. Overall, we gained valuable insight into why the future of renewable energy requires further knowledge, logistical planning and acceptance in the economic status quo to thrive against carbon technologies.”

Are you energy vulnerable?

There has been a lot of talking about energy vulnerability through the masters programme and usually we think about older people, the disabled, children and off-grid communities. But what about ourselves?

Recent studies show the relation of living in private rent with the vulnerability of suffering domestic energy deprivation. Turns out that is not just renting that accounts for the high level of vulnerability but also the fact of being young (and students!).

“More than 10% of households where the oldest person is younger than 24 are likely to fall in fuel poverty, while households living in private rented accommodation – most common among young people – are twice more likely to suffer from fuel poverty compared to all other households”


We probably have noticed that is common among students to live in poor quality properties with low energy efficiency appliances, damp and mould. Fun (not actually that fun) fact:  the rental sector has the largest proportion of least energy efficient homes1. And actually, research shows that young adults tend to live in the poorest housing.2

There some factors that make (us) vulnerable to suffer energy poverty. We can highlight some: Continue reading

Field trip to Newcastle!

Intensive week attendants at Cockle Park Farm

13th February 2019

As part of the Energy Practices and Energy Society module, the teaching week was held at Hatfield College. On the third day of this intensive lovely week, there was a field trip to Newcastle.

In the first stop, we were given a tour around the Power Station of Gateshead District, which supplies energy to Sage Gateshead, Gateshead Civic Centre, Gateshead College, BALTIC and some housing blocks. In most schemes, electricity is exported to the national grid. However, in Gateshead the electricity is supplied direct to customers through a network of “private wires”. The scheme is based on a gas fired Combined Heat and Power (CHP) energy centre located in Baltic Business Quarter. Gas CHP can generate electricity while capturing and supplying waste heat to buildings, in a process that is twice as efficient as conventional power stations.

Later on we visited the Cockle Park Farm, a project of the Institute for Sustainability of Newcastle University.

Cockle Park Farm demonstrates practical, engaged solutions for sustainability in agriculture and energy efficiency in the real-world rural environment. Newcastle university defines it as a ‘living lab’ because it combines research with economic and environmental benefits for the farm. They have a 75kW anaerobic digester plant that processes slurry from the dairy and pig units, as well as energy crops and food processing residues to produce biogas.

We had a guided tour around the farm. We learned about how they produce biogas. They keep it stored in tanks to be used for generating heat and electricity, while the digest ate is put back into the land as a fertilizer to improve the soil productivity.

We would like to thank Dr Abram for putting this event together and considering not only indoors seminars but also this refreshing field trip that expanded the way we think about energy systems and how they can be applied in different contexts and shows us that we don’t need to travel far to find innovative systems of renewable energy.

Special thanks to Angelica Sauceda who took almost all the photos of this post.


Hailey Bloom, MA student, Durham University

In addition to the research within the PEOPLE project together with Durham County Council, students on the MSc in Energy and Society course participate in an intensive teaching week once a term. Here, professionals from a variety of energy specialties, from both academic and business spheres, give presentations to help expand student understandings on the various fields in the study of energy. Our group was given the chance to present our project aims, objectives, and progress to our fellow course mates; to PEOPLE Project instructors Prof. Sandra Bell and Dr. Maria Şalaru; and to Rosalind Farrow, a carbon and energy analyst from Durham County Council.

In our presentation, we elaborated on how, due to financial and other circumstances, our original topic could not be pursued. This required the Council to source another topic and the Durham University team to redesign the project aims and objectives. The new project, described in an earlier project update, required different methods which we went on to describe during the presentation. Specifically, paper leaflets were designed for the student and council team to attach to electric vehicles as they encounter them within Durham. This has thus far been successful with two completed interviews, one conducted by Jack and Hailey and the second being conducted by Brendan and Hailey, and with several other interviews scheduled for the near future. Additional progress included a shared annotated bibliography between the student team which will help build up sources for a comprehensive literature review. Lastly, during the post-presentation period, we politely answered questions about the project posed from the audience. This allowed us to justify the resilience of our methods and provide some more specific detail about our experiences as researchers.


Jack Heffernan, MA student, Durham University

On the 31st of January, we were lucky to receive a recent visit from Josey Wardle, the infrastructure manager of Zero Carbon Futures, in order to gain insight into the progression of electric vehicles (EVs) within the UK. Zero Carbon Futures is a low-carbon transport consultancy company, which has been responsible for delivering innovative projects throughout the UK, to help towns and cities adapt to the evolving EV market.

Such projects include the Plugged in Places initiative that developed an extensive charge point network across North East England, covering sections of Durham University’s car park. In addition, Zero Carbon Futures was a project partner in the UK’s My Electric Avenue initiative which saw entire streets of EVs simultaneously plugged into home-charging points. The project examined how the grid would respond to the elevated demand in electricity at a one time, which witnessed successful and promising results.

Josey offered an extremely interesting and insightful experience upon her visit, one particularly intriguing point being that she felt EV users should be responsible for funding new charging infrastructure, as opposed to council-provided funding – something that is currently the case for many public charge points throughout the UK.

Furthermore, Josey suggested that the location of said charging points is the upmost important factor to consumers as opposed to the associated costs. This was interesting, as our initial predictions regarding our research was that financial barriers would be the primary deterrent to EV uptake.


An issue that we have highlighted during the early stages of our research is that EV parking spaces are often taken by hybrid vehicles, despite their extremely small electric capacity. However, Josey brought to our attention that, to prevent this issue from prevailing, the UK government has cancelled its grant offer surrounding the purchase of a hybrid vehicle. Other government incentives that Josey expressed during her visit included free recharging at public charge posts; free facilities at whilst charging (Wi-Fi, toilets, seating areas); and permitting EVs to use bus lanes in congested areas.

According to knowledge provided by Zero Carbon Futures, Nissan have taken an unexpected volume of orders for EVs over the upcoming year, producing a waiting list for their model the ‘Nissan Leaf’. This is extremely encouraging as it represents the mounting popularity of EVs amongst the car industry in Europe.

Josey’s visit proved extremely valuable to our research and we would like to thank her for taking the time to educate us on the exciting, innovative projects surrounding the EV industry.


On the 31st of January, the PEOPLE project was represented at the HE Academy STEM Teaching and Learning Conference in Birmingham. In pedagogical literature, expectations around innovation in education entail demands on curricular development and the delivery of teaching and learning objectives: an ideal education setting is often imagined as one in which teacher and student alike are engaged with the construction and revision of bodies of knowledge (Martin 2008, 302). This workshop broadened the scope to include industry and community partners in the learning process alongside teachers and students.

After a 15-minute presentation about the scope of the PEOPLE project and the case study, participants took 25 minutes to discuss, in groups of 3, how they would set up a module through a people-centred approach. Their module description included the course aims, the learning and teaching methods and the assessment of the students. These elements were then discussed in the following 20 minutes.

The workshop included a critical discussion of knowledge exchange across industry and academia – recognising how knowledge is co-constructed by students, teachers and industry partners in an “intersubjective dialogue of shared meanings” (Light, G., R. Cox and S. Calkins 2009, 30). It highlighted the critical aspects of knowledge creation, beyond social dialogue (Barnett 1997).

Higher Education Academy, conference, STEM, teaching and learning, UK, Durham University, workshop, people-centred development, PEOPLE project, Erasmus+
People-Centred Development workshop at the STEM Teaching and Learning Conference 2019, Birmingham, UK

Participants talked about difficulties this kind of learning presents and how to prepare and how best to avoid the most common pitfalls. It also highlighted the significant rewards for all participants, not least the striking responses from students involved in such projects.

Among the takeaway learning, we note the following insights into:

  • how to identify and negotiate relationships with potential partners
  • how to incorporate people-centred approaches into existing or new curricula
  • how to apply people-centred development to product and services in the private, public or third sector
  • how to manage conflicting priorities

The workshop welcomed participants into the international community of PEOPLE-centred learning practitioners for future collaboration. It marked the beginning of a collaboration that involves sharing resources, advice and support for putting collaborative and co-creative projects into action.

Visit this page to see the workshop abstract and the rest of the programme.


Jack Heffernan, MA student, Durham University

Participating in the PEOPLE Project 2019, we are a group of masters students at Durham University who have teamed up with Durham County Council (DCC) to help Durham City prepare for the country’s upcoming shift towards electric vehicles (EVs).

Our research aims to answer the question: How can Durham County Council help sustain and encourage the growth of EVs in Durham City?’.

Following a successful meeting with the DCC, we have collaboratively set out several objectives to ensure our research effectively answers the question and provides data which is beneficial to both our project and Durham City’s development.

Our objectives are as follows:

  1. What are the dominant barriers to EV uptake and what relevant incentives are there for EV users in Durham City?
  2. Understand the current experience of EV drivers.
  3. Locate and understand the current available infrastructure.
  4. Identify valuable sources of information to EV users.
  5. Examine examples of uptake in other locations for comparison.

To reach these objectives, we will use a variety of methods including: interviewing current/previous EV owners, attempting to purchase an EV to understand the processes involved, as well as a review of existing academic literature. All of which, will be carried out in close contact with the DCC EV team.

We were recently gifted the opportunity to test-drive the Durham Energy Institute’s EV, by which we drove across Durham City between charging points. This proved to be an extremely insightful experience, building our understanding of owning/using an EV around Durham City.

UK case study, PEOPLE project, Erasmus+, electric vehicles, people-centred development

In the upcoming weeks, we are lucky to have arranged a meeting with Zero Carbon Futures’ Josey Wardle to gain greater expertise surrounding the future of EVs. In addition, an upcoming visit to Elmtronics- the UK’s leading supplier and installer of EV charging equipment- will be of great use to the project.

Although the project is still in the relatively early stages of progression, we are extremely excited about the potential the research holds and the opportunity to help prepare Durham City for the innovative years ahead.

Where are they now? An update from Rob (E&S ’16-’17)

Finishing up my dissertation on the transition of London taxis from diesel to EVs 15 months ago I was raring to go in taking my first steps into the energy industry, in doing so shifting my interests in energy and sustainability from an academic setting to a commercial one.

So, where to begin in making this happen?

On handing in my dissertation my desk at home, full of papers and notes for my dissertation, were filed away and soon replaced with CVs, cover letters, application guidance documents and so on. Like many of life’s biggest turning points my first step in this career in energy turned out to be born out of the briefest of passing comments, fortunately, occurring just a few weeks later.

Quickly frustrated by the bleakness of applying for jobs I went to a taster session at a local rowing club as something to break up the monotony of job applications and a way to get out the house. I met a young couple on the taster day, one of whom had just started a two-year rotational graduate scheme for an energy company called ENGIE – her first impressions, she explained, were very positive.

I got home that evening and immediately started reading up about the company. I knew very little about them and had certainly never envisaged myself working for such a large company. Despite this the breadth of the company’s ambition for the future and their hopes for a transition to a decarbonised but also holistic, linked up approach to the services & products they deliver resonated (particularly after my recent learnings on sociotechnical systems on the E&S course at Durham!).

The company was distancing itself from fossil fuels, investing in all sorts of renewables, smart technology, IoT tech, EV charging solutions and had clear ambitions for realising a better, more sustainable future. Before too long I had submitted my application and they were the first to invite me to an assessment centre, the first of my life.

I turned up as instructed and a warm and friendly day ensued – not at all what I had been expecting from some of the horror stories I had heard. Despite the day seeming to go well I wasn’t too hopeful. I knew the statistics weren’t good. Family and friends being only too keen to point out it would stand as ‘good experience for the next one’ didn’t much help my hopes. To my delight though the following week the phone rang and I was offered the job. There was though just one slight catch – to begin September 2018 (they only have one start date each year…).

The hunt for another job for the 10 months in the interim thus begun!

The energy link to my story ends here. But for anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation to myself; as they look to begin their careers after studying an MSc in energy, or more broadly, the remainder of my story might still be of some relevance.

Simone’s farewell wishes to me as I finished the Energy and Society course in Durham included the recommendation to always remember the value of networking as I looked to begin my career – highlighting that it’s often as important who you know as what you know.

Before too long when walking the family dog in the village I met a local lady out walking as well. We had a good chat and in the course of the conversation I mentioned I had just accepted an offer to work for a company called ENGIE, to pursue my interests in renewable energy and sustainability, and that I was now looking for another job, locally, for the interim period before it started.

Thinking nothing else of our brief meeting a day or two later the phone rang – unknown number. It turned out to be the lady’s son and director of a local business specialising in making special needs toys. “When would you like to start?”. I started the next day and worked there for the 10 months up to September when I began my current job at ENGIE.

To summarise, in the 15 months since finishing on the Energy and Society course I have taken my first steps into the career I hoped to when finishing at Durham. I’ve also worked at a Special Needs Toy company – not something I set out to do but something I will look back on fondly, also knowing I learnt a great deal there.

All is now going well at ENGIE. I’m currently working in a team called Commercial Energy Services delivering energy efficiency projects for sites such as the Olympic Park, councils and NHS trusts as well as working on environmental reporting projects. I’m learning technical knowledge and commercial understanding everyday but perhaps the clearest lesson I’ve learnt in the past 15 months is the truth of Simone’s passing advice – it’s often as much who you know as what you know.

What I’ve come to realise is that both of these are very much in your own hands. When starting up a conversation with somebody you really do never know where it might lead and the possibilities of what might come of it.

Starting Again: James Davies makes a new start

One of the big benefits of the Energy and Society course and a major attraction for me personally, was the opportunity to get to know people from across the world – and I certainly haven’t been disappointed. Sharing stories and learning from each other’s varied experiences transformed initially nervous hellos and shy smiles into friends who you hope to keep in touch with for many years to come.

sunny day in the botanicals

With October and a new year, it starts again. As a part-time student going into my second year I knew what to expect as Simone guided us on our first stuttering steps on this journey for 2018/9, but I was still nervous joining the group tour of Durham where we first meet up with everyone. Whilst it was strange not seeing the same smiley faces as last year, the chance to see a whole new set of smiles brought its own joy and set of a fun day getting to know the others on the course.

behind the scenes

If you’re interested in the course and this blog then you’ve probably got an interest in how the energy system works, and our day started appropriately with a visit to one of only two city centre hydro schemes in the UK at the Freeman’s Wharf site in Durham. We all enjoyed hearing the successes and challenges of how it works in practice and who doesn’t enjoy the slightly covert thrill of disappearing behind an anonymous grey metal grate to get a ‘behind the scenes’ tour? This was followed by a walk-through Durham seeing a different side to the beautiful small city including remnants of the old coal mining tradition hidden in the steep woodland on the banks of the River Wear and a compulsory ‘Greggs’ visit for lunch. For those of you who haven’t experienced this treat Greggs is a very wide-spread bakery which does an ever-increasing range of sweet and savoury filled pastry and sandwiches.

botanical birds

Ben, who leads the Sustainability, Culture and Development course then took us up to the Botanical Gardens, one of Durham’s hidden gems, where we continued to chat, walk and eventually sit down with a cup of tea and some lovely cake – thank you Ben! Whether we had worked off enough calories to justify the cake we had I wouldn’t like to say, but sitting in the late summer sun, making new friends and learning about the intricacies of tea ceremonies in China was a very good way to re-ease myself back in to student life and start to get to know the others who will share the year with.


The PEOPLE Project participated in the Conference of the Association of Social Anthropologists in the UK and the Commonwealth, which took place in Oxford on the 19th of September. Together with Dr Hannah Knox from University College London, PEOPLE team members Prof Simone Abram and Dr Maria Salaru created a lab titled People-Centred Development: what is a meter?: an interactive, collaborative session in which participants used a wide variety of meters in a structured conversation about ecologies of metering.

The lab explored how anthropology can contribute to the conditions of everyday life. It aimed to rethink the design of infrastructural objects, highlighting the conditions that they impose on the everyday, and repositioning the ‘user’ through people-centred design.

The lab participants explored the following questions:

  • What is a meter? What does it measure, and what does it ignore?
  • How do meters configure you as a user and your actions as part of a social collective? How is their authority maintained?
  • Is a meter merely a way to facilitate exchange of service for money, or is it a means to generate a calculative subject (von Schnitzler, 2008)?
  • How do meters mediate the relationship between state and citizen (Anand, 2015; Fennell, 2011) or company and consumer (Coleman, 2014)?
  • How much of the meter’s utility is evident in its design, its placement, its representation and its products?
  • And what are the implications of digital, smart or open-source meters that promise to give new kinds of agency to both people and things?


Participants were invited to interact with various meters (thermometers, chronometers, optic power meters, sonic sound recorders, angle meters, etc.) as prompts towards taking a people-centred approach to re-conceptualisation and re-design of ‘metering’. This participative lab was fun and thought-provoking, providing the PEOPLE project with a novel perspective on different individual/community understandings of the potential of metering.