UCL Energy Institute


New PhD studentship in local indicators and potential for electrification of heat with ERBE CDT

8 May 2020

The new 4 year PhD studentship is part of the EPSRC-SFI Centre for Doctoral Training in Energy Resilience and the Built Environment (ERBE CDT), is sponsored by PassivSystems, and starts September 2020.

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Local indicators and potential for electrification of heat with a focus on multi-vector integration including hydrogen 

Sponsored by EDF Energy


Prof Robert Lowe, UCL Energy Institute


The studentship will cover UK course fees and an enhanced tax-free stipend of approx. £18,000 per year for 4 years along with a substantial budget for research, travel, and centre activities. Applicants should meet the EPSRC eligibility criteria.


4 years starting September 2020 

Industry Sponsor 

EDF Energy is one of the UK’s largest energy companies and its largest producer of low-carbon electricity. A wholly-owned subsidiary of the EDF Group, one of Europe's largest energy groups, EDF Energy generates around one fifth of the UK's electricity, employing around 15,000 people and supplying electricity and gas to around 5.5 million residential and business customers, making EDF Energy the largest UK supplier of electricity by volume.

EDF Group’s R&D activities are an integral part of the business. By investing in research and development EDF is able to create value and prepare for the future. EDF values and supports excellence in the UK research environment and aims to develop collaborations where skills are complementary to our resources. EDF is a world leader in the modelling and development of future energy sources and systems which is exemplified by its world class facilities and laboratories and over 2,000 researchers working in UK, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, China, Singapore and US. Within the UK, the company employs around 60 researchers, supplemented by support to over 20 PhDs, with expertise ranging from nuclear engineering to economic modelling and digital innovation. 

About the studentship

Heat is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases in the UK. The Committee on Climate Change states “an overhaul of the approach to low-carbon heating and energy efficiency is needed if the UK is to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050”. EDF is convinced that electrification of heat is the best path to deliver the decarbonisation of heat, but the approach to decarbonisation needs to address multiple objectives, constraints and opportunities that play out across multiple spatial and temporal scales.  There will therefore likely be no unique and universally applicable solution for heat decarbonisation. 
Deployment of heat pumps, development of district heating systems with low carbon sources, and (of increasing interest) hydrogen delivered by a re-purposed gas grid, all provide routes to the decarbonisation of heat, but each will face local issues related to energy and other infrastructure, the climate, housing typologies and densities, local policies and support, regulatory and governance structures, and economics. 

The proposed issue of this PhD is to look at these local, regional and national indicators and to define a methodology to provide recommendations on appropriate technologies or combinations of technologies to be deployed with a focus on the local context. The PhD student will work closely with the UCL team, using the 3D-Stock Model. This model currently provides a 3D representation of built forms, together with construction information, ages and thermal properties, and other energy related data for the whole of London; the intention is to extend it to cover the whole of the UK. This will ultimately support a highly granular model of the whole UK building stock, and provide a platform for managing and organizing multiple strands of information including, inputs from stakeholders (including, but not limited to EDF), and output from whole energy systems models such as UKTM and ESTIMO. 

A major outcome from the project will be a methodology to provide preliminary evaluations of candidate technologies (hybrid heat pumps, electric boilers, AS/GS heat pumps, H2 boilers and fuel cells, district heating, individual or hub heat storage…) to be deployed in any given area, for subsequent discussion with key stakeholders.  This phase could include solutions testing, in the lab or in the field.

Studentship aims

As this is now widely understood, there will likely not be one unique solution to the decarbonisation of residential heat, but multiple routes depending on the interplay of constraints and opportunities at multiple levels from local to national context. A key problem will be to understand the potential for synergies between the electricity grid, a decarbonised gas grid, and heat networks, in the context of rapid evolution of individual technologies and costs. The project has the potential to make a significant impact on one of the most important strategic problems facing the UK. 

The overall outcomes of the PhD will be:

  • Technology and system recommendations with focus on multi-vector solutions, for the decarbonisation of residential heat and taking account of recent work at UCL on energy system architecture
  • Overall potential impact of decarbonisation on energy system resilience in the UK, 
  • Analysis of the UK-wide system from the perspective of compatibility of electrification with an incremental evolution of the gas system (from methane to H2).
  • The PhD will be supervised by UCL Energy Institute, with close involvement of EDF R&D in the UK and in France, particularly with respect to technology assessment, and lab related activities.

Person specification

The research will require candidates with knowledge of the energy system including the demand side. Experience in one or more of the following would be an advantage: geospatial data (GIS), statistics, electrical, chemical or building services engineering, building physics, economics and social science. Candidates should have a Master’s degree and/or a first or upper-second class Bachelor’s degree in an engineering or technical discipline.Applicants must also meet the minimum language requirements of UCL.

Applicants must also meet the minimum language requirements of UCL.

Application procedure

How to apply

Please submit a pre-application by email to the UCL ERBE Centre Manager (bseer.erbecdt@ucl.ac.uk) with Subject Reference: 4year PhD in Local indicators and potential for Electrification of heat

The application should include the following:

  • A covering letter clearly stating which project you wish to apply for, your motivation, and your understanding of eligibility according to the EPSRC guidelines,
  • CV,
  • Names and addresses of two academic referees,
  • A copy of your degree certificate(s) and transcript(s) of degree(s).

Applicants should meet the EPSRC eligibility criteria.

Deadline for applications: 24 May 2020 23:59 BST

Interview process

The interview panel will consist of the project’s academic supervisor at UCL, a representative of the industrial sponsor and a representative of the ERBE CDT Academic management. 
Only shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview. 

Following the interview, the successful candidate will be invited to make a formal application to the UCL Research Degree programme. For further details about the admission process, please contact: bseer.erbecdt@ucl.ac.uk

For any further details regarding the project, contact Robert Lowe (robert.lowe@ucl.ac.uk).

You will be undertaking this project in UCL at the main (Bloomsbury) campus as part of the new EPSRC-SFI Centre for Doctoral Training in Energy Resilience and the Built Environment (ERBE CDT). This is a collaboration between UCL, Loughborough University and Marine and Renewable Energy Ireland (MaREI). For more information please visit the ERBE CDT website.