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  PhD Studentship in Governance of energy demand: Learning from energy crises to inform net zero strategy

   Lancaster University’s New Institute

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  Prof Rebecca Willis, Dr Janine Morley  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


Lancaster University’s new institute focusing on sustainability welcomes applications for two 3.5-year PhD studentships, funded by EPSRC (current stipend at £17668 per year). Successful candidates will study one of the following six projects advertised.  


This interdisciplinary PhD opportunity will investigate a crucial, neglected issue: the question of how to govern reductions in energy use. In considering how to meet energy and climate goals, governance organisations (central and local government, politicians and political parties, and advisory bodies) have so far focused overwhelmingly on issues of supply - for example, generating electricity from renewable sources instead of fossil fuels; switching to electric vehicles; rather than demand - for example, reducing travel demand through better city planning; reducing home energy use through changes in behaviour or insulation.[1] This ‘supply-side bias’ in governance is in spite of very clear evidence that combining supply-side interventions with policies to reduce overall demand for energy is fairer, more cost-effective and, in fact, necessary to meet net zero targets on time.[2]

However, the current energy price crisis has encouraged a renewed focus on the demand side. The UK government announced an Energy Efficiency Taskforce to oversee a new target of 15% reduction in national energy consumption by 2030[3]; France recently launched an energy sobriety (‘sobriété enérgetique’) plan to reduce demand by 10% by 2024 through measures such as reducing heating in offices and working from home to avoid commuter travel.[4] The oil price crisis of the 1970s also saw a range of successful and less successful attempts to govern demand reductions.

Scope and methodology: Given this context, this PhD project will therefore ask:

·        Why have governance organisations neglected demand-side interventions in energy governance?

·        What factors influence politicians’ willingness to talk publicly about the need for demand reduction, and what discursive frames are employed when they do?

·        How could demand-side interventions be integrated into net zero governance strategies more consistently?

To answer these questions, the research project will include a suite of interdisciplinary mixed methods including:

·        Comparative review of energy governance strategies, to investigate and evidence ‘supply-side bias’

·        Review of previous (1970s) and current (2022-3) instances of demand-side initiatives during crises, to consider possible lessons for longer-term climate / net zero governance

·        Interviews with policymakers, including central and local government officials and elected officers/politicians, to investigate reasons behind supply-side bias and to assess appetite for proactive demand-side governance measures

·        Development, in collaboration with policy stakeholders, of strategies to encourage integrated governance strategies which link supply and demand.

Opportunities for collaboration: The successful candidate will join the vibrant Climate Citizens research group, a hub of expertise in energy and climate governance. The project will benefit from close links with policy organisations including the Department for Energy Security & Net Zero (DESNZ), the Climate Change Committee, and Parliamentary Select Committees. Supervisors will include Rebecca Willis (Professor of Energy & Climate Governance) and Dr Janine Morley (Research Fellow). More widely, the project will link to Energy Lancaster, a University-wide interdisciplinary network of energy researchers, and the newly founded Institute for Sustainability.

Candidate sought: This PhD project is inherently interdisciplinary, and would benefit from incorporating insights from policy and governance literatures; political economy; sociotechnical transitions; the study of institutions, eg new institutionalism; and energy policy. This links to the agendas of EPSRC (energy and decarbonisation theme; strategic priority of engineering net zero) and ESRC (policy and governance). We encourage applications from researchers with experience of these, or similar, disciplines, and/or candidates with experience in policy, governance or business professions.

Send applications to [Email Address Removed] and [Email Address Removed]

Entry requirements

Applicants will hold, or expect to receive, a 1st class or 2:1 UK Masters-level or BSc degree (or equivalent). Candidates with a 2:2 may be considered if they can demonstrate excellent research skills in their application and references. 

Studentship funding

Full studentships (UK tuition fees and stipend (£17,668 2023/24 [tax free]) for UK students for 3.5 years. Funding is provided by the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council). The funding is aimed at UK Home students although exceptional international candidates can be put forward for no more than 30% of the EPSRC allocation to Lancaster University. 

How to apply:

Informal enquiries and formal submissions should be made to the supervisors:

[Email Address Removed] and [Email Address Removed]

Formal applications should be made in the form of a CV and a personal statement no longer than 500 words explaining:

- Interest in the project,

- Experience

- Why we should consider your application.

A preferred candidate for each project will be selected by the potential supervisory team. This group of candidates will then be formally interviewed to allocate the two funded places.

Interviews will be held on the 2nd May between 1-5pm by a panel including the supervisor for each project.

All applications must be submitted by midnight Friday 21th April 

Environmental Sciences (13) Sociology (32)


[1] see, for example, HM Government, Build Back Greener: The Net Zero Strategy (2021)
[2] Eyre, N. (ed). 2022. CREDS research findings. Oxford, UK: Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions.
[4] “Energy Sobriety: France unveils massive energy reduction plan”, Forbes, 10.07.2022
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 About the Project