Catherine Mitchell’s £1.3 Million Fellowship Grant
By Paul Homewood
As we know, Catherine Mitchell is Professor of Energy Policy at Exeter University. having spent most of her career in a variety of roles working for the climate establishment, many government funded.
What is less known is that she is also the recipient of an Established Career Fellowship from the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council), again government funded. The Fellowship is for four years and is worth £1,300,151. (Full details here)
So, what is a Fellowship? This is what EPSRC have to say:
A Fellowship is a personal award, designed to provide the recipient with the necessary support to establish or further develop themselves as a leader of the future. This type of award enables you to devote most of your time to a program of activities to deliver your proposed research vision. An EPSRC Fellowship is aimed to position yourself and your research topic within the wider academic field, to develop your leadership by establishing or extending your research group, and to act as an advocate for the STEM disciplines in general and EPSRC specifically.
The EPSRC Fellowship aims to provide greater support to the aspiring and current world-leading individuals who are delivering the highest quality research to meet UK and global priorities. Through links to our strategic priorities and focussing on areas where growth is required, Fellowships develop the next generation of researchers with the greatest potential across the postdoctoral, early and established career stages.
In other words, it is not a Research Grant, which is a mechanism to support a research team led by a Principal Investigator (PI) and Co-Investigator (CoI) to perform the research in the proposed project. Instead it is very much a personal award.
The Fellowship grant includes payment of full salary, which is naturally a big attraction for the employer, in this case Exeter University, who will no longer have to pay it. It can also cover other costs, such as travel, cost of staff, equipment and so on.
The stated purpose of Mitchell’s Fellowship, according to her submission to EPSRC is:
Innovation, Governance and Affordability for a Sustainable and Secure Economy
Tackling climate change, whilst ensuring energy security and affordability are key issues facing energy the system within the UK and internationally. The goal of moving towards a more sustainable, low carbon economy implies the need for a radical transition in the way that energy is both supplied and used. Such a change not only links to the technologies that are developed and deployed, but also the wider political, social, and economic institutions and infrastructures in which they are embedded or with which they are connected, including all of the actors within them. This is a dynamic and complex process and the interactions between all these factors and the choices made by the different actors within the energy system, such as policy makers, large firms, new entrants, investors, end users, etc will all influence that way the change occurs – i.e. energy governance.
This research will focus on the relationships between innovation, governance, energy demand and affordability. It will do this by exploring the means by which interactions take place within the energy systems and their implications for innovation in respect to carbon targets, technology deployment, investment, new practices, customer involvement, energy efficiency, and the total cost of energy for customers. Specifically the research will consider the relationships between institutions, policy design (such as rules and incentives within the gas and electricity systems (markets and infrastructure), industry structure, incumbent and new entrant company strategies and decision-making processes and consumer practices. It will do this by primarily following the relatively simple causal relationships put forward by political and institutional economic theory. More complex theories of innovation (the multi level perspective and the coevolutionary theory of change) do consider governance but not in great detail. Incorporating the overall methodologies of these more complex theories will add rigour to our analyses, and also enable an expansion of the discussion of governance in both the MLP and co-evolutionary innovation theories.
The programme will do this over four years in four countries with very different innovation histories. In particular, it will analyse the implications of different innovation and governance relationships on the success or otherwise of energy demand reduction and issues of affordability. Finally, it will analyse the implications of the findings on long term strategic innovation in energy systems, building upon, and contributing to, the literature and analysis of socio-technical transitions, coevolutionary analysis, institutional economics and policy paradigms. The outcomes will lead to a better understanding of how the transition to a sustainable, low carbon energy system, can occur.
The research team is being lead by Catherine Mitchell from the Energy Policy at Exeter University and is supported by a high level expert panel. This includes UK and international academics working on transition theory, representatives from large and small energy companies, the UK energy regulator, as well as practitioners from the wider energy community who work with a range of stakeholders from across the energy sector. The research will be carried out in respect to the UK energy system and with international comparative analysis within Denmark, Germany, California and Texas.
EPSRC Fellowships span a range of what are described as Priority Areas. Many may be very valuable, such the Digital Economy and Engineering. Indeed, much of Catherine Mitchell’s work may be very useful.
But we need to remember,when she utters anything in public, that she is financially beholden to the EPSRC, and ultimately to the government which is paying the bill.
The idea that she is offering us the expert views of a disinterested academic could not be further from the truth.