Do you want to do a PhD in energy issues?

Did you enjoy studying for a masters in energy and society? Are you thinking about doing a PhD? Occasionally we receive information about relevant phd positions for MSc graduates, such as this one, below, from colleagues at Anglia Ruskin university. University colleagues usually collaborate in advertising each others’ positions, because we know how difficult it is to get PhD funding, and we want to ensure all of our graduates have the best possible opportunity. So now and then we will add them to the blog. We will often retweet these opportunities too, or send them out on other blogs and news sites, including the DEI website, the Energy Anthropology Network site at or via Anthropology Matters

If you are interested in phd research and are looking for opportunities, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at any time.

PhD advert – ‘Lived experiences of ‘accelerated’ energy transitions: A UK and Norwegian comparison’

Supervisors: Dr Chris Foulds and Prof. Aled Jones, Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK; Prof. Marianne Ryghaug, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.
Start date: September 2020, fully funded (annual stipend + fee waiver + additional study expenses) for 3 years
Deadline: 9 February 2020

The PhD opportunity:

There have been increasing calls for urgent, widespread, and deep transformations to the ways that societies use and produce energy. Indeed, significant year-on-year emissions reductions of 10%/annum may be needed to meet existing Paris Agreement climate change targets – which is completely at odds with how policy has been instead prioritising incremental changes. Relatedly, there has been much debate amongst Transitions Studies scholars on ‘how fast’ energy transitions can actually be in reality. Even if ‘accelerated transitions’ are needed, are they actually possible? These debates have been grounded in theoretical arguments and/or cherry-picking from a small number of empirical studies – essentially, there have been very few truly experimental programmes pushing ‘accelerated transitions’, and even fewer that have been systematically studied.

This project aims to investigate the lived experiences of citizens involved in highly ambitious and experimental low-carbon energy programmes. In particular, there will be a focus on where there is a lot happening all at once (across e.g. home life, work life, mobility, etc.) and within a short period of time. Aside from the unintended consequences and/or successes of accelerated transitions, there will also be insights on matters of inclusion, democracy and justice – ultimately, who is impacted (and how) when such programmes are rolled out?

A comparative approach will compare experiences of citizens involved in contrasting Norwegian and UK case studies. Semi-structured interviews will be conducted with stakeholders participating in the programmes, in addition to participant observation (where the researcher spends extended periods working within the programmes).

The PhD researcher will be based at Anglia Ruskin’s Global Sustainability Institute, in partnership with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) new Norwegian Centre for Energy Transition Strategies (NTRANS). The successful candidate will likely have experience of qualitative research methods and hold a relevant social science Masters, or have equivalent experience.

The Global Sustainability Institute (GSI):

Over the past eight years, the GSI has built a global reputation for delivering research impact and high-quality interdisciplinary publications across a broad range of sustainability issues. We believe it is the only research institute/group to have received funding from six of the seven UK Research Councils. It has also led and supported several high-profile EU projects includingSHAPE ENERGY, Energy-SHIFTS, MEDEAS, RRING, Energy in Water, and others, which collectively aim to reshape national and international energy governance agendas. The GSI has a particular interest in research that has the potential for real-world impact, and thus this PhD project will sit alongside a wider portfolio of applied projects that focus on advising e.g. European Commission, UK Government, local authorities, charities and NGOs, business and industry, etc.

Further details:

  • This PhD opportunity is part of ARU’s wider Vice Chancellor PhD studentship programme. More details can be found here (under ‘Sustainability and Environment’), including on the application process.
  • Prospective applicants are strongly encouraged to contact Dr Chris Foulds ( to discuss the PhD opportunity further.
  • The annual stipend will track UKRI levels across the three years, which was set at £15,009/year for 2019-2020 and is to be confirmed for 2020-2021.
  • These full-time Vice Chancellor’s PhD Studentships are open to all UK/EU fee statusapplicants.


What topics does the course cover?

  • This is a wide-ranging course that introduces you to social and technological issues around energy. We take what is called a ‘socio-technical’ approach, that isn’t hindered by disciplinary boundaries, so we try to cover issues.
  • Having said that, you need to know what kinds of energy we are talking about. So the course covers the basics of most current and emerging energy technologies that you might need to know about.
  • We also introduce you to different social theories that will help you understand what the energy transition implies, and what makes energy systems sustainable – that includes understanding ‘energy practices’, learning about how these can be researched, thinking about what we mean by ‘infrastructure’, understanding what ‘Carbon’ is (in a broad and multilevel way), as well as thinking about energy for development.
  • the course includes a variety of learning styles, to accommodate students with different experience. Don’t worry if you haven’t written an essay for ages – we will walk you through the process. And don’t worry if you think calculus is all Greek. no-one will force you to do equations if you don’t want to.
  • What we do insist on is that you learn to work in a team, and we do this through a group project that we call ‘field study’ (we had to call it something). This means that you work in a group to apply what you have learned to a real problem or challenge. We set up the projects, usually with an outside organisation, so that you can make a difference. There is more information about this on this blog and on the DEI website. You could also look at a special extended version of this that we did as part of a European project, called ‘PEOPLE’:
  • and then you can choose what else you want to cover. There is a good range of optional modules that you can choose from several different departments, covering topics from energy law, innovation and business, risk and hazards… and if you have engineering background, you can also take modules in new and renewable energy. The world is your oyster.

How long is the course?

  • 12 months full time or 24 months part-time

What are the course requirements?

  • A good honours degree (upper second) or equivalent in any discipline. If you have corresponding work experience, then you can apply.

Is there funding available for this course?

  • we are able to offer some bursaries each year. These only cover part of your costs, though, so you will need to look into additional funding sources. Some international students may apply through the Commonwealth Scholarship scheme or the Chevening scheme, for example. Previous students have also been sponsored by organisations such as Rotary.
  • You may also be eligible for a sports bursary if you are an outstanding sportsperson. Please see the university’s sports information for further details.

Where can the course take me?

  • where do you want to go? See our pages on ‘where are they now’ for some examples. Graduates have moved into industry, into consultancies, into government and local government, international agencies, and into community organisations. That’s apart from the ones who are now professional sportspeople, for example.

Where can I find out more information about Durham University?

  • have a look at the university website for a whole range of information about the university. You can also look at the individual college websites. Durham is a ‘collegiate’ university, which means that all students are also members of a college – some offer accommodation, catering, social activities, etc, but not teaching. All teaching happens within the main university. You might also want to look up the Students’ Union, which offers a range of services for students at Durham.
  • And you might want to learn more about the Durham Energy Institute, in particular, at where events and course information can be found, as well as summaries of dissertations, and academic and policy publications.
  • don’t forget to check out the website fo the Anthropology department, which hosts the MSc. You can see all the other weird and wonderful research that goes on in the department!
  • and finally, you are welcome to come and visit us. Just contact either DEI or the department of Anthropology and ask about open days, come along to a DEI event, or arrange for an appointment with the course leader or other staff.

Diversity is key for the future of energy

Climate change is not a problem that different countries face on their own. This problem is frightening us as a species — therefore that is how we need to confront it.

We owe our development to the right combination of talent, expertise and curiosity of different countries, genders, religions and cultures. Diversity has helped us to overcome  challenges throughout the ages. If it was not for the alliances during the world wars, who knows how the planet would be now. We learn and grow through the experiences and mistakes of others.

While I write this text, there is a strike on the streets whose leaders are youngsters that noticed our current actions towards climate change are not enough. They ask for a world to live in while they grow up and it is our responsibility to give it to them.

Their concern and commitment remind us of the urgency to reduce cut out carbon emissions. This is the main challenge for the energy sector in the next five years. But to achieve it, we cannot isolate ourselves in our comfort zones. Working with people from our same fields, countries and sectors is not enough.

During my time studying the MSc in Energy and Society, I have learnt that multidisciplinary work is key to solving the real problems. By collaborating with people from different backgrounds (not only academic but professional and also cultural) the approach we are able to achieve is broader and we have come up with holistic solutions. Which actually, is the aim of the program.

Some of the synonyms of diversity are “variety, different in kind, not alike, essentially different”. All of these enrich our mindsets. Sharing stories, experiences and ideas allow us to extend our understandings.

Despite this, governments nowadays seem to try to shot down the bridges that globalisation had brought to people. Sometimes it feels like doors are being shut right in front of our noses. We cannot let this happen. In order to save our planet and the future of the next generations, we need to recognise the potential that diversity brings us. The challenges we are facing cannot be solved by stocking ourselves in offices or by coming up with creative solutions on our own. We urge the involvement of citizens, academics, students and politicians. And the more, the merrier.

What do people write their dissertations on?

Graduates of the MSc Energy and Society at Durham University have moved into diverse careers. Below are a few summaries of ‘where they are now’ and what they chose to research for their dissertations. Other graduates have moved into professional sports, military careers, and more, but the majority are applying their energy expertise.

Luke Garrett – MSc Energy and Society graduate in 2014

Dissertation – how micro-generation technologies (air-source heat pumps and solar PV) might be used to alleviate households at-risk of fuel poverty.
Is now an Insight Executive at Smart Energy GB

Previously at National Energy Action as Research Policy Officer managing projects on consumer vulnerability, energy efficiency, sustainability, housing and wider charity sector.

Nina Campbell – MSc Energy and Society graduate 2016

Dissertation – Conceptualising Community Energy Change: An anthropological study of Vector’s Energy Efficient Communities Project

Is now – Senior Strategy and Programme Advisor at Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority (EECA) New Zealand.

Suki Ferris – MSc Energy and Society graduate in 2016

Dissertation – Exploring the opportunity to construct a mine water based geothermal district heating system in a village in County Durham.

Is now – Gas Network Analyst at National Grid and has helped to model the future introduction of shale gas onto the gas National Transmission System.

Tom Riley – MSc Energy and Society graduate in 2017

Dissertation – The rise of sustainable housing: energy efficiency and behaviour.

Is now a Management Consultant for PwC. He works with energy companies primarily, whilst also influencing FTSE100 Companies to become more sustainable in terms of business strategy and internal practices.

Robert Hinchley – MSc Energy and Society graduate in 2017

Dissertation – Opportunities and barriers to the electrification of Hackney Carriages in the UK

Is now a graduate management trainee at ENGIE UK with his first job to work on building energy and sustainability audit in London. He will then rotate through a further three placements across Engie’s UK operations in his first two years at the company. He is incredibly excited to start his career in the UK energy industry!

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.