Professor Catherine Mitchell
Professor of Energy Policy

Research

Research interests

Catherine‘s research interest is how to undertake the transition from the current ‘dirty’ energy system to a sustainable energy system, at a rate which is quick enough to make a difference to the planetary imperative of climate change and which maintains energy security. She views this question as a system issue. This requires addressing all the issues which make up a system such as policy (and politics), institutions (including economic regulation), infrastructure, economics, innovation, law and planning. She is interested in what enables, constrains or channels energy system innovation at a local, regional, national and international level. She is also interested in the overlapping spheres of energy (including transport), waste resources, water and food policy and how energy policy fits within the broader climate change policy.

Research projects

IGov2: Innovation and Governance for Future Energy Systems – (2016-2019).
Catherine is the Principle Investigator for a 3 year extension of an EPSRC Established Career Fellowship - IGov, described below. IGov has shown that GB's energy governance is slow at changing, including with respect to the demand side, and that GB is following a somewhat different low carbon technological path than other European countries, especially those which are most determined to meet their low carbon targets (i.e. Germany and Denmark). Energy system practice change is happening more quickly in some countries and US States with respect to technology use, new entrants, business models, customer engagement and ownership, and this system change appears to be speeding up and becoming increasingly decentralised.

Seven issues have emerged about the scale, speed and scope of changes in energy practices by new actors around the world. These are:

(1) that there are increasingly rapid changes in many other countries, as explained above;
(2) that there appears to be a social, technical, and economic tipping point in favour of a new energy trajectory, even while energy systems remain dominated by fossil fuels;
(3) the nature of change appears to be leading to an increasingly linked but increasingly decentralised energy system; and some changes appears to have their own momentum - like a group of birds 'flocking' or a starling's 'murmuration'.

This pattern of change raises
(4) concerns about possible disruption, either technical or economic; and whether Britain could 'manage' the transition process;
(5) questions about the nature of the future energy system;
(6) whether the form that change is taking and the types of energy governance responses in different countries are related to their differing political economy institutions; and finally
(7) concerns that the current fossil fuel disinvestment campaign will have an unexpectedly rapid impact on energy systems, with implications for governance. IGov2 will explore these issues, and their implications for GB energy governance.

IGov: Innovation, Governance and Affordability for a Sustainable and Secure Economy - IGov (2012-2016).
Catherine is the Principle Investigator for a new EPSRC Established Career Fellowship – IGov. This will examine the relationships between innovation, governance, energy demand and affordability. It will do this by exploring the means by which interactions take place within 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.

The programme covered 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 five person research team is being led by Catherine 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. Find out more on the website - www.exeter.ac.uk/igov.

Other Projects

Catherine is part of the Aures project. She is also on the advisory board of I-REMB ; She is Co-I in the Oxford Policy Management Energy and Economic Growth project (undertaken by Bridget Woodman in the EPG, see her webpage for more details). She is a Co-I in Stepping UP, undertaken by Iain Soutar and see his webpage for more details.She is also responsible for a governance section of Sim4Nexus, with Nicola Hole as the key researcher. She is also CO-I of the UKERC Heat Incumbancy project - please see Bridget Woodman or Richard Lowes’ web pages; and she is Co-I on the Cornwall Local Energy Market Project (please see Bridget Woodman or Rachel Bray’s web page).

Catherine was the Principal Investigator of the ESRC/EPSRC interdisciplinary research cluster into Energy Security in a Multi-Polar World (2009-2013). This brought together the different disciplines of energy policy, international relations and supply chain analysis to analyse the various temporal and dimensional aspects of energy security. The purpose of the research cluster was to strengthen the understanding of British energy security, in two main ways.

  • First, to expand knowledge concerning how to make Britain more energy secure now, in the short term.
  • Second, to analyse what has to be done in the short term, to ensure that energy security will be maintained in the medium to long term, with particular reference to the supply chains of oil and gas supply and sustainable energy technologies.

The ‘new’ or ‘distinctive’ element of this project was to bring together three overlapping disciplinary research areas of expertise to address the problem of energy security: energy policy, international relations and research about supply chains. There has long been a distinction within the energy policy discourse between internal and external sources of energy security or insecurity. The energy policy debate is, as yet, limited in its ability to incorporate new, or alternative, approaches to analysing and explaining evolving international contexts and their implications for domestic energy security and it is intended that this research cluster will address this and explore how Britain could develop strategic, flexible relationships with energy supply countries.

The ESWM research cluster published a book www.exeter.ac.uk/igov/book-new-challenges-in-energy-security/ on it is findings and further general information on ESMW is available from - www.exeter.ac.uk/energysecurity

Catherine’s research work also links closely with her other colleagues ( Bridget Woodman, Matthew Lockwood, Caroline Kuzemko, Shane Fudge, Nicola Hole, Joe Dutton and Richard Hoggart); her PhD students Iain SouterHeinke Thies, Tom Steward and Oscar Fitch Roy; as well as the other PhD students (Richard Lowes and Jess Britton) and  Associate Fellows.

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