Democratisation of Energy, Data and Algorithms - Geography - EPSRC DTP funded PhD Studentship Ref: 2955

About the award

This project is one of a number funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Doctoral Training Partnership to commence in September 2018. This project is in direct competition with others for funding; the projects which receive the best applicants will be awarded the funding.

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018. It will provide research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.

Please note that of the total number of projects within the competition, up to 15 studentships will be filled.

Catherine Mitchell
Iain Soutar

Penryn Campus, Cornwall

Project Description
Democratisation of energy, Data and Algorithms – mutually exclusive, or helpful for GHG reduction?

GB has an energy policy goal of reducing Greenhouse gases from 1990 levels by 80% by 2050.  This will require a complete change in the way GB uses energy, and people will have to become more connected to their energy use  because they have to pay for energy system transformation but they also have to be prepared to use energy in different ways. 

The energy system is already beginning to change as a result of policies to cut GHG, and the availability of new energy supply technologies (such as solar) and IT technologies. This momentum is known as D4 – decarbonise, decentralise, digitalise and democratise.  Together, this is moving the heart of the energy system from a top-down, linear framework to one which is bottom-up, non-linear and reliant on data to understand the value of different services. Access and retention to data has therefore become a central enabler of energy system operation and trade.  

Democratisation is where people are more involved in their energy use – this can be through (for example) owning their own generation or production (for example, a solar electric panel or a solar water heating panel) or through signing a new tariff to allow a distribution network to alter the voltage marginally in their own homes. 

Simple algorithms have always been used in energy – in models and in trading for example, and an algorithm at its simplest says if X happens, then do Y. However, with computers and more complex system operation, those algorithms have became more complex. And as we move towards D4, these algorithms – which are unregulated - are becoming both more complex and more prevalent. Data is created every time that algorithm is used. The creators of the algorithm and the company which uses it with a customer is able to hold that energy use information.

The question is, in the long term, is this going to be helpful or a hindrance for the move to a sustainable energy system, and what implications does it have? 

The Energy Policy Group takes the view that energy system data should be transparently available for the public interest, as an enabler of innovation. The Energy Policy Group also views democratisation of energy as an essential component of the transformation to a sustainable energy system. 

We are looking for a PhD student who is capable of understanding the technical nature of algorithms (and models), and their use in trading, tariffs etc but this is really a political science / sociological / policy PhD which is exploring the importance of democratisation of energy, and the degree to which data ownership and algorithms are undermining or helping that to occur; and who is capable of thinking about solutions and recommendations for regulation of data and algorithms.

Entry Requirements
The majority of the studentships are available for applicants who are ordinarily resident in the UK and are classed as UK/EU for tuition fee purposes.  If you have not resided in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the studentship, you are not eligible for a maintenance allowance so you would need an alternative source of funding for living costs. To be eligible for fees-only funding you must be ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU.  For information on EPSRC residency criteria click here.

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are NOT eligible for funding. International students interested in studying at the University of Exeter should search our funding database for alternative options.


Application deadline:10th January 2018
Value:3.5 year studentship: UK/EU tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at current Research Council rate. Current rate of £14,553 per year.
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Doctoral

How to apply

You will be required to upload the following documents:
•       CV
•       Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to
        undertake the project.
•       Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim
        transcript if you are still studying.
•       If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current
        proficiency in English.  For further details of the University’s English language requirements please see

The closing date for applications is midnight (GMT) on Wednesday 10 January 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter in late February 2018.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email:
Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.