Postdoc in Energy Vulnerability coming soon…

[Updated 09/08/2022 with revised dates]
Next week on the 16th August, a job advert will be go live to replace a current researcher in our team who has been successful in securing a permanent lectureship elsewhere. Unfortunately it will have a very short application window (4th September) due to reasons outside of my control relating to UoB changing over recruitment systems, so I’m circulating the details now to help people get a headstart. Feel free to drop me an email if you have any questions!

Background

We are seeking to appoint a Research Fellow in Energy Vulnerability to work on an exciting international project, ESLatinA – Energy Solidarity in Latin America: generating inclusive knowledge and governance to address energy vulnerability and energy systems resilience.

Funded through the prestigious Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), ESLatinA responds to the urgent need for comprehensive and inclusive understanding, evidence and governance capacity on energy vulnerability in Latin America, with an in-depth focus on Colombia, Cuba and Mexico.

Led by the University of Birmingham, the project unites researchers and practitioners from the Central University of Las Villas (Cuba); University of the North (Colombia); National Autonomous University of Mexico; Technical University of the Central Valleys of Oaxaca (Mexico); Onergia (Mexico); Energy Ombudsman Mexico; and The College of the Northern Border (Mexico). Our aim is to bring about systemic change for energy vulnerability alleviation, whilst simultaneously enhancing energy system resilience, and fostering energy solidarity, to maximise social welfare and equitable development.

Job Purpose

The Research Fellow will work closely with the Principal Investigator Dr Harriet Thomson across the ESLatinA project. This includes: collecting original data via field research, focus groups, household surveys and other techniques; transcribing, coding, and analysing this data; the writing of policy briefs and toolkits; the publication of academic outputs; coordinating with research partners in different countries; facilitating international networking; producing national and local action plans; other research assistance as needed.

Main Responsibilities

  • Conducting mixed methods research, with a key focus on qualitative approaches such as participatory workshops
  • Analysing and interpreting research findings and results
  • Managing relationships between project partners in different countries
  • Disseminating research findings for academic, policy and non-academic audiences
  • Facilitating international network activities of the Red de Energías Solidarias
  • Contributing to writing bids for research funding
  • Interacting with the School of Social Policy, through participation in research seminars and occasional guest lecturing on relevant topics

This research will inform targeted energy policy interventions across Latin America.

Person Specification 

Essential criteria for the position are:

  • A PhD (or soon to be obtained) in energy and environmental studies, social and public policy, human geography, or a related area
  • Fluency in both English and Spanish
  • Willingness to travel for fieldwork (at up to 2-3 weeks at a time), project meetings and conferences, subject to COVID-19 restrictions
  • The analytical skills or experience necessary to apply existing concepts and theories relating to social justice, energy poverty, energy vulnerability, and/or energy resilience
  • Strong knowledge and experience in qualitative techniques such as field research, interviewing, and/or participatory workshop facilitation
  • Ability to work individually on own initiative and without close supervision, and as part of a team juggling competing perspectives and timelines
  • Experience working in multidisciplinary teams, and/or discipline hopping
  • Evidence of the ability to communicate effectively to academic, policy and non-academic audiences

Desirable criteria are:

  • Experience of working in Latin America on energy issues
  • Knowledge of energy systems in Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, and the wider region
  • Familiarity with people-centred frameworks, such as the Capabilities Approach
  • Understanding of energy systems modelling, and experience of using tools such as LEAP
  • Evidence of managing and organising international teams and networks

Key details

Fixed Term Contract for 1 year up to October 2023 (potential for extension – we are awaiting confirmation from the funder). This is a full time role but part time working and job shares can be negotiated.

Due to funding restrictions, the starting salary available for this post will be £31,406 to £33,309.

Applications for this vacancy are to be made online. You will be required to upload a CV and supporting statement, and to answer two questions:

  • In the project, we are co-developing an understanding of the term ‘energy solidarity’. In your own words, without looking it up or using academic references, what does the term ‘energy solidarity’ evoke? (Up to 150 words)
  • Please go to the Latinobarometro website, and using their ‘Online Analysis’ tool, find and tell us about an energy-related statistic. Tell us why you find it interesting. You can choose any of the countries and any year before 2020. Please try to spend no more than 30 minutes on this. This is not a test and there is no right or wrong answer, rather it is a way for us to get to know you and what you find curious. (100 words)

What does the UK’s extreme heat warning mean for energy poverty?

Earlier today, the Met Office issued the first ever Red Extreme heat warning for the UK, with temperatures of 40°C forecast for the first time next week. This is a deeply worrying situation, with the implication that the effects of the heatwave are predicted to be so severe and/or prolonged that they will extend outside the health and social care system. In other words, the extreme heat could cause illness and death, including among those with no pre-existing illnesses.

This is a sadly avoidable crisis that climate scientists have been warning us about for years, and which for the most part successive governments have ignored. Clearly action must be taken now to adapt to this new reality and to mitigate harm to people and planet.

A few years ago, my colleagues Neil Simcock, Saska Petrova, and Stefan Bouarovksi joined me in calling attention to summer overheating as a distinct facet of European energy poverty that needed mainstream recognition. Our article in Energy and Buildings provided evidence from across Europe, as well as framework for understanding vulnerability to summertime energy poverty – which I’ll briefly summarise here.

We know that housing plays a huge role in mitigating the risks of excessive indoor warmth. Our  research within Eastern and Central European countries found that overheating was most common in districts dominated by large apartment blocks, particularly if the building lacked cooling features such as shutters and tiled floors, natural shading from trees, and the ability to cross-ventilate.

Beyond the infrastructure of the home, each person’s capacity to adapt is also important, and this is shaped by factors such as the accessibility of cool spaces (both in terms of the provision of cooling centres, and a person’s ability to travel to said centres), household income, and wider social relations. A third important factor to consider is each person’s sensitivity to harmful consequences, which is primarily driven by a person’s age (with more severe impacts for very young and old populations), and health status.

The below diagram simplifies what is in reality a very complex set of interactions, but nonetheless helps us to visualise the diverse range of contingencies that are at play in determining household-level energy vulnerability.

Figure 1 Conceptual diagram of vulnerability to excessive indoor heat. Source: Thomson et al., 2019: pg 27. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378778818324307#fig0004

We argue that significantly more research is needed in Europe on indoor cooling and the impacts of summertime energy poverty, with a particular focus on:

  • The characteristics of Europe’s housing stock and demographic make-up in relation to space cooling: dense urban areas prone to overheating with relatively low-income differentials, but with an overrepresentation of vulnerable households.
  • Europe’s relative unpreparedness – with the exception of the Mediterranean region – to summer heat; our study has shown that space cooling-related energy poverty affects countries located well into the European north, where the notion that households may struggle to cool their homes is outside the focus of public attention.
  • Inequities around space cooling as part of a wider set of difficulties in securing adequate energy services, among which space heating, lighting and appliance services stand out.

In addition, we point out implications for policymakers and how they conceive of and respond to energy challenges:

  • There is an urgent need to move beyond over-simplistic assumptions of seasonal climate needs, towards the commissioning of new research on year-round vulnerability
  • Climate risk assessments should include measurement of the preparedness for heat waves in the domestic sector
  • More data needs to be collected – in this regard, we call on Eurostat to reverse their decision to stop collecting EU-level data on indoor cooling issues and air conditioning
  • Attention should be paid to adaptive practices – understanding how households adapt to heat is important, as is promoting low-impact ways to stay cool in order to avoid air conditioning becoming an established practice as this could place unmanageable pressure on electricity grids, create tensions with carbon reduction goals, and increase the financial vulnerability of households.

The reality is that many countries worldwide are facing increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme heatwaves. Let’s heed the warnings of the Met Office and take decisive action now.

Commonwealth Fellowship Scheme for 3 month visit to UoB

The Commonwealth Fellowship Scheme is an exciting opportunity for early career researchers from commonwealth countries to spend up to three months in Birmingham between September 2022 -July 2023 carrying out identified research projects. This opportunity arises from the university’s official partnership with the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games due to take place summer 2022.  

The fellowship scheme aims to: 

  • support the professional development of early career researchers at universities in commonwealth countries 
  • allow visiting fellows to gain experience of how research is conducted at the University of Birmingham  
  • promote research collaboration between leading groups in Birmingham and commonwealth countries through projects undertaken initially in the UK 
  • build long-lasting partnerships and collaboration between the University of Birmingham and institutions in commonwealth countries  

This scheme is open to nationals of countries within the Commonwealth. Full details on eligibility and the application timeline can be found here: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/international/global-engagement/commonwealth-fellowship-scheme.aspx

Applications within the broad areas of Health and Life Sciences, Energy and Environmental Sustainability, and Global Challenges are particularly encouraged in this scheme. Within this context, candidates can suggest their own research topics, but I would particularly welcome innovative applications that focus on any of the following:

  • Monitoring indicators, particularly for capturing issues relating to the quality of energy supply, frequency of power outages, and range of household energy needs;
  • Participatory research methods, including the use of Community Research Advisory Groups/Citizen Panels, and digital tools for participation;
  • The relationship between energy poverty and adverse health, wellbeing, educational and/or economic outcomes;
  • Integration of energy systems resilience, energy vulnerability, and energy solidarity, in line with a new GCRF project that is hosted at the University of Birmingham;
  • Policy synergies and conflicts between addressing energy poverty, and related topics such as climate change, air quality, and urban development.

Interested applicants are encouraged to contact me to discuss this opportunity: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/social-policy/thomson-harriet.aspx

Closing date 26th June 2022

Open call for Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual European Fellowship looking at energy poverty

Applications are invited for the prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Individual European Fellowship scheme, to be based in the School of Social Policy at the University of Birmingham, UK. These fellowships are up to two years long, open to researchers anywhere in the world outside of the UK. The call for applicants is anticipated to open during May, with a closing date in September 2022.

Energy poverty, also referred to as fuel poverty, is a condition associated with adverse consequences for people’s health and wellbeing, and broader economic development, which occurs when a household is unable to attain basic levels of energy services in the home (i.e. heating, cooling, and lighting). Whilst access to electricity globally has risen from 78% in 2000 to 89% in 2017, this still leaves an estimated 860 million people worldwide without access to electricity. Furthermore, among households that have access to electricity, not all households experience good quality energy services. This can happen due to the affordability of energy, gendered differences in energy access and use, inadequate infrastructure, and unreliable or unsafe supply.

As such, energy poverty manifests in different ways, depending on geographical, cultural, and climatic contexts. Within Nordic countries, it might look like households in rural areas experiencing frequent power cuts and needing to rely on backup generators, whereas in Latin America a household might have to choose between cutting back on energy consumption, or facing unsafe conditions to gather more firewood, often with the risk of physical harm and/or government fines.

Within this context, candidates can suggest their own research topics related to energy poverty/fuel poverty, with a geographical focus of their choice, but we would particularly welcome innovative applications that focus on any of the following:

  • Monitoring indicators, particularly for capturing issues relating to the quality of energy supply, frequency of power outages, and range of household energy needs;
  • Participatory research methods, including the use of Community Research Advisory Groups/Citizen Panels, and digital tools for participation;
  • The relationship between energy poverty and adverse health, wellbeing, educational and/or economic outcomes;
  • Integration of energy systems resilience, energy justice, energy vulnerability, and energy solidarity, in line with a GCRF project that is hosted at the University of Birmingham;
  • Policy synergies and conflicts between addressing energy poverty, and related topics such as climate change, air quality, and urban development.

Interested applicants are encouraged to contact me as soon as possible to discuss this opportunity. The fellowship application is expected to be written jointly with the host organisation, so sufficient time should be allowed for feedback and internal administrative processes.

Open call for International Postdoctoral Fellowships looking at energy poverty

Applications are invited for two prestigious postdoctoral funding schemes, to be based in the School of Social Policy at the University of Birmingham, UK:

  1. Newton International Fellowships – two year fellowship to work in the UK, open to all outside of the UK with no more than 7 years postdoctoral experience. Closing date 16th June 2021, earliest start date would be 1st January 2022;
  2. Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Individual European Fellowships – up to two years long, open to researchers anywhere in the world outside of the UK. The call for applicants is anticipated mid-May, with a closing date in September 2021.

Energy poverty, also referred to as fuel poverty, is a condition associated with adverse consequences for people’s health and wellbeing, and broader economic development, which occurs when a household is unable to attain basic levels of energy services in the home (i.e. heating, cooling, and lighting). Whilst access to electricity globally has risen from 78% in 2000 to 89% in 2017, this still leaves an estimated 860 million people worldwide without access to electricity. Furthermore, among households that have access to electricity, not all households experience good quality energy services. This can happen due to the affordability of energy, gendered differences in energy access and use, inadequate infrastructure, and unreliable or unsafe supply.

As such, energy poverty manifests in different ways, depending on geographical, cultural, and climatic contexts. Within Nordic countries, it might look like households in rural areas experiencing frequent power cuts and needing to rely on backup generators, whereas in Latin America a household might have to choose between cutting back on energy consumption, or facing unsafe conditions to gather more firewood, often with the risk of physical harm and/or government fines.

Within this context, candidates can suggest their own research topics related to energy poverty/fuel poverty, with a geographical focus of their choice, but we would particularly welcome innovative applications that focus on any of the following:

  • Monitoring indicators, particularly for capturing issues relating to the quality of energy supply, frequency of power outages, and range of household energy needs;
  • Participatory research methods, including the use of Community Research Advisory Groups/Citizen Panels, and digital tools for participation;
  • The relationship between energy poverty and adverse health, wellbeing, educational and/or economic outcomes;
  • Integration of energy systems resilience, energy justice, energy vulnerability, and energy solidarity, in line with a GCRF project that is hosted at the University of Birmingham;
  • Policy synergies and conflicts between addressing energy poverty, and related topics such as climate change, air quality, and urban development.

Interested applicants are encouraged to contact me as soon as possible to discuss these opportunities. Both fellowship applications are expected to be written jointly with the host organisation, so sufficient time should be allowed for feedback and internal administrative processes.

ESRC-funded PhD Studentship: Understanding and determining energy poverty

Applications are invited for a prestigious (1+3 or +3) full time PhD Studentship, to be based in the School of Social Policy at the University of Birmingham, to begin in October 2021.

Energy poverty, also referred to as fuel poverty, is a condition associated with adverse consequences for people’s health and wellbeing, and broader economic development, which occurs when a household is unable to attain basic levels of energy services in the home (i.e. heating, cooling, and lighting). Whilst access to electricity globally has risen from 78% in 2000 to 89% in 2017, this still leaves an estimated 860 million people worldwide without access to electricity. Furthermore, among households that have access to electricity, not all households experience good quality energy services. This can happen due to the affordability of energy, gendered differences in energy access and use, inadequate infrastructure, and unreliable or unsafe supply.

As such, energy poverty manifests in different ways, depending on geographical, cultural, and climatic contexts. Within Nordic countries, it might look like households in rural areas experiencing frequent power cuts and needing to rely on backup generators, whereas in Latin America a household might have to choose between cutting back on energy consumption, or facing unsafe conditions to gather more firewood, often with the risk of physical harm and/or government fines.

Within this context, candidates can suggest their own research topics related to energy poverty/fuel poverty, with a geographical focus of their choice, but we would particularly welcome innovative applications that focus on any of the following:

  • Monitoring indicators, particularly for capturing issues relating to the quality of energy supply, frequency of power outages, and range of household energy needs;
  • Participatory research methods, including the use of Community Research Advisory Groups/Citizen Panels, and digital tools for participation;
  • The relationship between energy poverty and adverse health, wellbeing, educational and/or economic outcomes;
  • Integration of energy systems resilience, energy vulnerability, and energy solidarity, in line with a new GCRF project that is hosted at the University of Birmingham;
  • Policy synergies and conflicts between addressing energy poverty, and related topics such as climate change, air quality, and urban development.

Interested applicants are encouraged to contact me to discuss this opportunity: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/social-policy/thomson-harriet.aspx

For the application form and full details go to: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/university/colleges/socsci/study/postgraduate-research-scholarships/studentships-social-policy.aspx

Closing date 26th January 2021

Open call for Postdoctoral Fellowship applications looking at energy poverty

The UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has recently announced a call for applications to its Postdoctoral Fellowship scheme aimed at “providing a career development opportunity for those in the immediately postdoctoral stage of their career, to provide the opportunity to consolidate their PhD through developing publications, their networks, and their research and professional skills”. As part of this scheme, I would welcome applicants to the University of Birmingham’s Social Policy pathway who are interested in topics relating to energy poverty/fuel poverty, the social aspects of energy, and Latin American and European energy policy – in line with my current research projects.

This scheme provides one year of funding (or two years part-time) to work with a named mentor on a schedule of activities that you design, which can include writing up publications, network building, collaboration with external stakeholders through placements, further training, bid writing and more. It is open to all who are within 12 months of completing their PhD at a UK research organisation that is part of a Doctoral Training Partnership, and who will have been awarded a PhD or have passed their viva voce with minor amendments by the application deadline of 23 March 2021 and have been awarded their PhD by the fellowship start date of 1 October 2021.

Interested applicants are encouraged to contact me directly on h.thomson [@] bham.ac.uk by 29th January 2021 at the latest to discuss this mentoring opportunity. For full scheme details see: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/mgsdtp/postdocfellowships/

Mid-course reflections on teaching interdisciplinarity

In the seven years that I have been teaching at universities, I have always taught single discipline modules, where the content is developed and delivered by just one department. Since starting my lectureship at Birmingham, however, I have jumped straight into leading on an interdisciplinary module that spans three disciplines – social policy, politics, and economics (henceforth referred to as PPE). Continue reading “Mid-course reflections on teaching interdisciplinarity”

New beginnings

For the past five and a half years the EU Fuel Poverty Network (EUFPN) website, which I founded at the beginning of my PhD, has provided myself and other researchers and practitioners in the energy poverty field the space to write topical blog posts. The EUFPN has been very successful in reaching out across Europe to various stakeholder groups, and maintaining the EUFPN website has been quite a time consuming task at times, which is why I never got round to creating my own personal website. However, two things have changed recently: Continue reading “New beginnings”