Our research themes

Fair Energy Futures brings together a broad spectrum of academics and research at the University of Leeds.

Our primary objective is to advance the principles of equality and justice within the realm of energy futures, in the UK and around the world.

We have identified key themes and research methodologies that showcase the group’s holistic engagement with fair energy futures across the University.

These research themes were developed with our 100 group members to represent their broad range of research expertise, as explained in our Medium blog: System mapping fair energy futures. These themes will likely evolve to represent this changing space. 

Read about our research themes

Inequality, now and in the future

At the core of our research is the critical examination of fairness, or the lack thereof, in energy access, utilisation, and distribution.

The University is dedicated to identifying and exploring inequalities, looking into who is included and excluded now and in future scenarios, and discerning geographical patterns that explain these disparities.

With a strong foundation in social sciences, we use concepts such as justice, access, inequality and vulnerability to investigate and articulate issues of fairness. 

The University is a hub of significant research activity in this area, including a wide array of energy-related topics including energy itself, climate change, pollution, and transport.

Our investigations delve into how social and spatial variances influence individual experiences and document their impact on lives.  

For example, one of the focal points of our research is the ways in which gender and disability contribute to inequalities in energy access, and the intersectional nature of these inequalities, particularly their effects on health and well-being. 

Politics, policy, governance, and public participation

Fair energy futures will not just happen: they need to be governed into being and will require deliberate governance efforts.

In this theme, our research focuses on the politics, policy and governance surrounding energy transitions, including participatory decision-making and engaging the public.

We aim to guide the transition to fair energy futures, drawing on expertise across various policy areas such as eco-social policy, environmental and energy regulation, net-zero targets and industrial decarbonisation.

We also emphasise the dynamics of political change, including climate diplomacy and the political economy of energy transitions. 

Our specialists’ work spans various geographical scales, from community initiatives to local government, business sectors, industry, regional governance, parliamentary politics, and global earth-systems governance.

This theme also highlights the importance of place and people. It explores local governance and the relationship between place-making and sustainability.

Public engagement and participation are central to our research, focusing on inclusive decision-making, justice in participation processes, and elevating underrepresented voices.

Conceptualising, achieving, and tracking change

This theme focuses on understanding what forms of change are desirable, how these changes can be realised, and the evidence required to track progress.

We believe that academia should contribute to creating visions of the future, defining what fair emission reductions or just transitions would entail and identifying pathways to achieve them.

Our research is dedicated to uncovering mechanisms for change, such as managing and reducing energy demand through rationing, enhancing energy efficiency or identifying social catalysts that can prompt change, like influential relationships or tipping points.

To grasp change, we examine how it is experienced in daily life. Our University colleagues engage in research on travel, transport and household energy use, aiming to understand current consumption patterns and anticipate future shifts.

Monitoring change also involves tracking progress, which we do by accounting for carbon emissions and measuring carbon footprints.

Our work involves collaboration with a broad spectrum of people and organisations, including trade unions, the police, local governments, installation and construction professionals, and other educational institutions. This approach allows us to address change from multiple perspectives, ensuring our research is relevant and impactful. 

 Technology for fair futures

The University of Leeds is home to exceptional engineering research focused on developing technologies to reduce carbon emissions.

Many scholars involved in these endeavours often pursue social objectives alongside their technical goals, addressing inequalities in technology distribution and access to cleaner energy sources.

These advancements are recognised for their potential benefits to health, well-being and quality of life. It is inspiring to collaborate with engineers who are not only dedicated to technological innovation but also committed to fairness, striving to provide improved and more affordable energy access. 

Additionally, social scientists contribute to this field by examining the deployment of technologies and their implications for justice.

Our team explores alternative fuels, low-carbon technologies and carbon capture and storage, evaluating their potential to promote environmental sustainability and social equity.

This theme includes efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change across various national contexts. We use computing and software tools to better understand fair energy futures, demonstrating a multifaceted strategy to address climate change through both technological innovation and a commitment to social justice.

Methodological approaches

The methodology behind research holds significant importance, leading to the development of innovative methods in studying fair energy futures.

Interdisciplinary collaboration forms the backbone of our methodology, involving experts from various fields to address questions related to fair energy futures.

Participatory research methods are also pivotal, including action research, deliberative policymaking, and participatory Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

Energy modelling plays a crucial role within the context of complex energy systems, where there is a growing focus on addressing inequality and injustice. This methodological diversity underscores our commitment to thorough and inclusive research practices.