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The real power of communities: Assessing indirect and social benefit of community owned and managed energy systems

   School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society

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  Dr Mark Hull, Dr S Kerr  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Edinburgh United Kingdom Climate Science Electrical Engineering Energy Technologies Economics Sociology Socio Economics

About the Project

Context: Borne out of aspirations and support for land reform and social justice at local and national level in Scotland, there now has been nearly two decades of significant Community led energy activities linked to building resilience and longevity into Community anchor organisations and the facilities and services they have looked to run, improve and sustain. This has largely focussed on practical action and intervention, and has enjoyed significant support from both statutory and charitable organisations. The Scottish Government Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) alone is most recently recorded as supporting and leading to approximately 24,000 installations, with a total capacity of c.400MW in Scotland. These consist of a wide range of different activities: social landlord led direct interventions in residential properties to provide affordable heat and power; shared facility type projects to directly improve the energy efficiency, affordability, and amenity of community held assets; and also a significant proportion of larger revenue generating renewables projects that now indirectly act by creating community funds for wider activity.

There are a range of other public and private support initiatives adding to this, but this Governmental scheme alone is conservatively estimated to now have enabled £10s of millions value, and greater than 1 million tonnes CO2 equivalent decarbonisation annually as a result of its delivery. But, arguably, a far larger value of community energy activity is created through indirect value and the social benefit it can bring to communities. These benefits may include supporting and underwriting the capacity of the target community anchor organisations to deliver self-directed locally coordinated and “owned” development through the resource and revenues secured by these energy activities, ideally delivering wider social resilience and, improving the lives and well-being of individuals in the community.

Project Description: The goal of this PhD is to gather information and create and test tools that will start to describe, examine and evaluate this wider value, in particular developing methods that could be used to evidence and evaluate key aspects of these potential indirect benefits relating to the creation, support and action of community energy enabled anchor organisations. By developing a framework to rigorously evaluate and quantify any benefits, these tools can help assessment of activities by the communities themselves, inform, and potentially improve, current activities, and enable future and replicable policy and support mechanisms that can build from this learning. 

The PhD will examine current activities in the field, in communities in Orkney and more widely across Scotland, in order to establish baselines, and then start to agree and co-design some appropriate metrics and methodology for this process with those actively involved in the sector. We will seek to establish if there are universal and common themes and outcomes across existing activities than can be used for wider applicability to new undertakings in the same area of activity. Hopefully, the work will also begin to explore how any common principles established for existing energy activities could be applied to new potential community anchor organisation roles in related emerging areas of collective social resilience activity; such as community ownership and management of mobility services, socially inclusivity of well-being and the inclusive and just transition to net zero and beyond.


Applicants are requested to send a cover letter stating why they are interested in the PhD, what ideas you could bring to the project, and outline any relevant experience. Please also submit a CV with all qualifications to date. The cover letter and CV should be sent to Dr Mark Hull ([Email Address Removed]). Candidates are invited to contact Dr Hull for an informal discussion about the project.

In addition, to apply you must complete our online application form. Please select PhD programme Environment and include the full project title, reference number and supervisor (Dr M Hull on your application form. Ensure that all fields marked as 'required' are complete. You must complete the section marked project proposal; upload a supporting statement/cover letter documenting your reasons for applying to this particular PhD project, why you are an ideal candidate for the position and what ideas you could bring to the project. You will also need to provide a CV, a copy of your degree certificate/s and relevant transcripts. You will be asked to enter details of an academic referee who will be able to provide a technical reference. You should ask your referee to upload their reference letter by the closing date of this advert - until your nominated referee has uploaded their statement, your application will not be marked as complete and will not be considered by the review panel. You must also provide proof of your ability in the English language (if English is not your mother tongue or if you have not already studied for a degree that was taught in English within the last 2 years). We require an IELTS certificate showing an overall score of at least 6.5 with no component scoring less than 6.0 or a TOEFL certificate with a minimum score of 90 points.

Please contact Dr Mark Hull ([Email Address Removed]) for further information or an informal discussion.

Funding Notes

This is a full scholarship, funded for 3 years and covers the PhD tuition fees and stipend (currently £15 285 per annum), covered by Heriot-Watt University. Full funding is available to UK, EU and international students.
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