UCL Energy Institute


New PhD studentship in developing a flexibility capital framework

7 June 2021

The UCL Energy Institute’s Energy Resilience and the Built Environment Centre for Doctoral Training invites applications for a fully-funded four-year PhD studentship.

The Thames at night | Photo by Alexander London on Unsplash

Applying a flexibility capital framework to drive an inclusive energy transition 

“Flexibility capital” refers to the capacity of different social groups to provide flexibility to energy systems, and thereby benefit from the energy transition. This PhD is a unique opportunity to develop a flexibility capital framework and influence academic and policy debates on flexibility and a just transition.

Key information

Start date: September 2021

Funding: The studentship will cover UK course fees and an enhanced tax-free stipend of approx. £19,000 per year for 4 years along with a substantial budget for research, travel, and centre activities. 

Supervisors: David Shipworth, Charlotte Johnson and Michael Fell, UCL Energy Institute

Deadline for applications: Sunday 20 June 2021 23:59PM (UK Time)

Interview date: TBC

About the studentship

Decarbonising the UK’s energy system requires an increase in renewable electricity, in particular to meet demand for electric heating and transport.  To accommodate this, electricity use will have to become more flexible and adapt to variability in supply and grid constraints. For example, smart electric vehicle (EV) charging could be used to avoid lots of EVs in the same area charging at the same time, or to make use of cheap wind power. Or electric heat pumps could be set to turn down when prices on a time of use electricity tariff are high, saving on running costs and reducing strain on the grid. 

Some people, households, companies, or communities are better placed to provide (and benefit from) flexibility than others. This could be for a range of reasons, like access to certain technologies, or having job or family circumstances that allow activities to be completed flexibly. “Flexibility capital” (Powells and Fell, 2019) offers a framework to analyse both the technical potential and the societal factors that underpin the realisation of a more flexible electricity system. 

Policymakers and industry want to understand the potential of different technological configurations, market offers, and how flexibility can be reliably unlocked. Advances in digitisation and automation offer the promise of maximising flexibility with minimal inconvenience. There is also widespread recognition that the net zero transition should be as equitable as possible, both for reasons of fairness and to avoid undermining public support. This means that new flexibility solutions will need to be engineered with a broad range of participants and situations in mind. The flexibility capital concept, and its implications for a just transition, has already gained traction in research and regulation. This PhD provides an opportunity to develop further the framework and work with stakeholders to apply the framework and deliver real-word impact.

Studentship aims

The aim of this PhD project is to develop the flexibility capital framework and provide practical tools for planning and analysing the growth of demand-side flexibility. 
The project will analyse: 

  1. what makes up flexibility capital (e.g. technical, social, and economic resources, geographic location, grid connection / capacity), and how it can be described and/or quantified
  2. how flexibility capital is distributed throughout the UK spatially and demographically (factoring in characteristics such as ethnicity, gender, disability, and age)
  3. what combinations of technologies and flexibility solutions are expected to emerge as the UK continues to decarbonise, and how these affect participation and deliver different types of value for actors at different points in the energy system 
  4. how the potential to provide flexibility can be operationalised to the benefit of a wide range of participants, as well as the energy system. 

Person specification

The applicant should have an interest in technical aspects and social dynamics of electricity systems, with strong quantitative skills but an openness to drawing on qualitative data and approaches. 

A minimum of an upper second-class UK Bachelor's degree and a Master's degree, or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard, in a relevant subject, is essential. Exceptionally: where applicants have other suitable research or professional experience, they may be admitted without a Master's degree; or where applicants have a lower second-class UK Honours Bachelor's degree (2:2) (or equivalent) they must possess a relevant Master's degree to be admitted.

Applicants must also meet the minimum language requirements of UCL.

Application procedure

Stage one - Eligibility and how to apply:

Please submit a pre-application by email to the UCL ERBE Centre Manager (bseer.erbecdt@ucl.ac.uk)  with Subject Reference: 4-year PhD studentship in Applying a flexibility capital framework to drive an inclusive energy transition.

The application should include the following:

Stage two - Interview process

Only shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview.

For the interview shortlisted candidates will be required to show proof of their degree certificate(s) and transcript(s) of degree(s), and proof of their fees eligibility.

The interview panel will consist of members of the supervisory team, and a representative of the ERBE CDT. 

The interview will include a short presentation from the candidate on their ideas of how to approach this PhD project.

Following the interview, the successful candidate will be invited to make a formal application to the UCL Research Degree programme for ERBE CDT.

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.

For further details about the admission process, please contact: bseer.erbecdt@ucl.ac.uk

For any further details regarding the project, contact: Michael Fell, michael.fell@ucl.ac.uk