This project will explore how and to what extent community-led, local action that aims to address social inequality through promoting more equitable approaches to energy provision can produce viable, alternative models for generating and distributing sustainable energy, and affect policy and regulatory change.
The research questions this study will explore are:
• What are the key characteristics of the policy and regulatory environment in which community-led energy generation and distribution schemes operate?
• How can greater economic and social justice be achieved in the distribution of energy at local level?
• What opportunities for business innovation, aligned to achieving greater energy justice, are available to community providers?
• What alternative business models and practices can successfully deliver viable schemes?
Background and rationale
The challenge of transitioning to post-carbon, renewable energies whilst at the same time ensuring citizens have access to affordable energy in their homes is one that governments around the world are facing. Questions of how energy is produced and used are central to understanding how new approaches to energy provision and energy justice can be achieved (Hiteva and Sovacool, 2017).
Renewable electricity accounted for 24.5% of electricity generated in the UK during 2016 compared to 10% in 2012 (UK Gov Energy in Brief 2017). However, in the UK, as in most European countries, the regulatory environment for energy is complex and the sector is dominated by large-scale, corporate providers (Energie Cities 2017). A context of austerity and reduced local government has led stakeholders to take local action in order to generate new municipal revenue streams. In this context there is a heightened need for research to explore how energy providers can engage in the equitable redistribution of costs and improve social justice (Laybourn-Langton, 2016; Santier 2016).
Community energy providers are leading the way in defining the agenda for energy justice, however, there is little research that explores the social policy implications of the alternative business models they propose. This study aims to better understand the organisational forms, service designs and delivery processes involved in creating community-led energy generation schemes in the current British policy context.
The project is core to the ESRC’s longstanding commitment to address ‘the consequences of choices we make as a society’ in response to climate change.
The ESRC have supported social science contributions to this field for 50 years with research that spans both global and local interventions. The contribution of community energy providers to the attainment of national and international targets agreed in the UN Frameworks Convention is of increasing significance and findings from this study will contribute to policy making and research efforts in this key area.
The proposed project fits with the research strategy of the School of Applied Social Sciences ‘Social Science and Policy Research Group’ which ‘seeks to engage critically in public debate on a range of emerging and contemporary policies and practice-based issues’. Research in the ‘Culture, identities and social spaces’ research area seeks to “explore meaningful, ethical, just and sustainable ways of living our lives” and is “orientated towards issues of justice, equality, political activism and agency”.
This PhD opportunity has been developed in collaboration with the Green Growth Platform (GGP) at the University of Brighton and industry partner Community Energy South both of whom will facilitate access to local stakeholders for data collection purposes. The student will use both quantitative and qualitative methods to analyse the policy and business environment and will conduct participant observation from which case studies of community-led energy generation schemes will be developed and analysed drawing on theoretical ideas relevant to collaborative and sharing economies, corporate social responsibility and disruptive innovation.
A 1st or 2:1 degree in social science or other relevant discipline (e.g. engineering, environmental science); a post-graduate qualification at merit/distinction (including research methods); good communication skills; interest in and commitment to developing innovative methodologies for engaging with community energy providers. Mixed methods research training and a background in social policy, business or applied politics would be highly relevant.