Join Us: PhD on Disinvestment and Death Spirals

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on Jul 5, 16 • posted by

Join Us: PhD on Disinvestment and Death Spirals

Join the EPG: Disinvestment and Death Spirals – governance issues for future energy systems 

The Energy Policy Group (EPG) at the University of Exeter has a fully funded 3.5 year PhD which is part of the Innovation and Governance for Future Energy Systems (IGov2). This is an extension of a 4 year Innovation and Governance for a Sustainable, Secure and Affordable Energy System project (IGov). The studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of £14,296 for 3.5 years.  The student would be based in the EPG in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Cornwall Campus of the University of Exeter in Penryn, and Catherine Mitchell is the academic supervisor.

It has become clear from IGov that the energy system is facing a number of challenges to its governance. One of those issues driving change appears to be coming from the movement to disinvest from fossil fuels. This rapidly growing movement is inter-linked with the carbon bubble research (eg CTI 2014) that shows that much of the known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground in order to meet the challenge of climate change, and keep below a few degrees average global warming. This research also shows that the valuation of companies related to these reserves risks a rapid reduction in share values, which could in turn lead to a financial crisis, and further falling fossil fuel demand. The Bank of England (Carney 2014), and Lord Turner, former CEO of the Financial Services Authority (The Actuary 2015), are two unexpected voices which have raised concerns on this issue. If this movement gathers momentum it raises questions over what impact this will have on some of the biggest actors within the energy system.

At the same time, it has become clear in some countries that the disinvestment arguments are working alongside economic arguments for customers to become self-generators (usually with solar and storage technologies). In these situations, the network companies (which have hitherto relied on a payment per kWh used as revenue) are faced with network costs having to be paid for by fewer units of electricity. One answer is for suppliers / distribution companies to raise the network cost proportion of the unit of electricity which in turn makes it even more economic for customers to move to solar and storage. This is known as the ‘death spiral’.  Australia is one such place where disinvestment from fossil fuel arguments are combining with economics to strengthen drivers towards bottom-up change.  The PhD Case Study will be in Australia (1 trip).

The point of the PhD is to come to some conclusion about how important the fossil fuel disinvestment movement is as a driver of energy policy;  how important the carbon bubble argument is for energy policy; whether ‘death spirals’ are unusual occurrences for network companies or whether their drivers are likely to affect more network companies; in what ways, if any, these three areas are working together; and what are the implications, if any, for future energy systems and for GB in particular.

All of this has to be placed in a whole system view of energy policy, and within relevant theoretical debates about theories of change and transformation.

This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free stipend.  For students who pay UK/EU tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £14,296 per year tax-free stipend.  Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee. Studentships will be awarded on the basis of merit and are awarded for 3.5 years of full-time study to commence 19th September 2016 (or as soon as possible).

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain a Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or have equivalent qualification or experience. Energy Policy is an inter-disciplinary area of study. No-one area can answer energy policy questions which cover technology, innovation, politics, economics, international relations, business and finance concerns, and so on. We are interested to receive applications from anyone who can show a previous interest in this area, and who has an open and inquiring mind. Energy policy is largely not about the ‘best’ policy but finding the ‘least worst’ policy. Policy is about working from what we have in the real world; from detailed knowledge of the situation; understanding all perspectives; and being creative in finding solutions. Because of this we are looking for someone who has judgement, who is not wedded to one discipline and who wants to work on a real world issue and find a pragmatic, practical policy outcome which is workable.

To find out more:

The application deadline is 21st July and interviews will be held on 28thJuly. Send application to . If you have any queries email Catherine Mitchell on

The EPG is a small, family-friendly group. Being a good colleague and team player is as (if not more) important than academic brilliance.

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable, see:

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