DPhil Studentship: Governing residential heat decarbonisation in the UK

CREDS DPhil in Geography and the Environment Studentship

Eligibility: This studentship is ONLY available to students who are eligible for HOME fees.
Deadline: 31 May 2024.


To meet the UK's international climate change commitments, residential space and water heating must be decarbonised by 2050. The UK needs to move away from its current dependence on natural gas for heating – but it is not yet clear how this transformation will occur, or what decisions need to be taken and investments made, when and by whom.

This research will investigate governance arrangements required to deliver residential heat decarbonisation in the UK. It will contribute to emerging research on residential heat decarbonisation and policy processes, decision-making, and on the roles of government and other actors including devolved, regional, and local authorities, regulators, market actors and civil society.

Funding restrictions

This DPhil is funded by UKRI at their standard rate. Funder’s conditions mean that only UK (home) applicants are eligible.

Developing your research proposal

Many different research questions about governance of heat decarbonisation could be developed, using a variety of research methods or combinations of methods, and informed by different theories. Below are brief descriptions of three possible DPhil projects. Applicants are welcome to either develop one of these outlines or to present their own idea. You must submit a research proposal as part of the application process.

Example 1: Managed decline of the gas grid

This project would explore the managed decline of existing socio-technical systems, using the phase out of the current UK gas network as its empirical focus. To date the study of system transformation has been dominated by the study of new emerging technologies and systems. Less researched is the destabilisation of the old. This focus is pertinent in the UK, given the limited role the national gas grid is expected to play in residential heating in the future.

Potential research questions include: How has managed decline been theorised in existing work on system transformations, particularly in the context of large infrastructure? What historical precedents are for a managed decline in infrastructure systems? How can insights from theories on policy processes contribute to managed decline in theorising and practice?

Potential methods might include the historical, sociological analysis of comparable instances of managed decline in infrastructure systems, comparative analysis of the institutional contexts in which the managed decline of gas networks are currently being managed in for instance the Netherlands, and/or expert interviews with policy makers and practitioners at local and national scales.

Example 2: Delivering heat projects locally

Whilst it is widely acknowledged that current multi-level governance arrangements for heat decarbonisation aren’t fit for purpose and that local decision-making will be important, it is less clear what local governance arrangements might deliver effective and equitable progress. This project would examine these issues, potentially building on contemporary governance innovations like local area energy planning, municipal bonds and the increasing use of multi-actor partnerships.

Potential research questions might include: What governance innovations are required to unlock delivery of local, place-based heat decarbonisation? What forms of local organisation offer promise in creating effective and fair approaches to local heat delivery? What trade-offs arise between delivering projects at the pace required whilst ensuring equitable outcomes and how can they be navigated?
Potential methods might include review of existing work on local, place-based governance, case studies on contemporary place-based heat decarbonisation projects and their organisation and/or interviews with project managers and heat project funders.

Example 3: New local governance arrangements for heat decarbonisation

Where local authority leadership for heat decarbonisation is absent a variety of organisations including communities, charities and businesses are step up to explore new ways to organise and deliver projects. In these instances, new governance arrangements face a variety of issues including securing financing, building trust, and maintaining legitimacy.

Potential research questions might include what foundational issues and challenges arise in seeking to organise for local heat decarbonisation beyond local government? How are these challenges navigated by private and third sector actors and what lessons arise for others? What is the role of non-public intermediary organisations in organising for local, place-based heat decarbonisation?

Potential research methods include surveys and interviews of existing organisations seeking to convene others to deliver projects, and case studies on progressive or leading regions.

Integration with the research community

Supervision will be by Tina Fawcett and Jake Barnes from the Environmental Change Institute (ECI), a research institute of the School of Geography and Environment. There are several relevant projects at ECI including: Network for Decarbonisation of Heating and Cooling, Energy Demand Observatory and Laboratory (EDOL), Implementing effective and just net zero policies project (IMPERFECT) and Clean Heat Streets. We expect to attract future projects related to decarbonisation of heating and its governance, and that the student will be able to work with ongoing projects and project partners as appropriate.

College affiliation

The student will be a member of Reuben College, Oxford.

Next steps

Applicants are encouraged to contact the supervisors to discuss their ideas in advance of finalising their application. Such informal discussions will not form part of the admissions process and are not mandatory.

Tina Fawcett (tina.fawcett@eci.ox.ac.uk), Jake Barnes (jacob.barnes@ouce.ox.ac.uk)

Applications must be made via the central Graduate Admissions system.