Dr Iain Soutar
Stella Turk Building G3.04
University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, TR10 9FE
I am an environmental social scientist with a wide range of research interests. My research and teaching generally focuses on developing a better understanding of processes of change - and inertia - in energy and other complex systems, and the implications thereof for meeting policy, as well as broader societal objectives. My research currently focuses on the following themes:
- Public engagement in energy system change
- The interaction between the key energy system trends of decarbonisation, decentralisation, digitalisation and democratisation within energy systems
- Energy system transformation and just transitions
- The coevolution of social and technological innovation
- Governing for uncertainty in complex systems
- The governance of innovation at the water-energy-food nexus
I am a member of the Energy Policy Group, within the Centre for Geography and Environmental Science (CGES). I co-founded ExeterEnergy, the interdisciplinary network of over 150 energy researchers at the University of Exeter.
2016 PhD From local to global value: The transformational nature of community energy (University of Exeter)
2009 MSc Economics for Natural Resource and Environmental Management (Cranfield University)
2004 BSc Environmental Science (University of Dundee)
Research group links
I am interested in the drivers and implications of processes of transformation within the energy system. Ongoing social and technological innovation is changing both the structure and the functioning of energy systems around the world. The processes and outcomes of such change can be understood as transformational: they comprise technologies and infrastructures that are fundamentally different in terms of nature, scale and geography, and involve broader, deeper and more dynamic forms of engagement with the society in which they are embedded. My research is concerned with understanding both the factors and the implications of these changes.
EnergyREV is a UK Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund programme focused on proving the value, impact, and routes to investment in Smart Local Energy Systems. Within this, I am working on Work Package 4 to understand the factors contributing to community and user engagement strategies and practices in smart local energy systems. Research Fellow.
Net Zero Communities (2021-22)
NZCom is a project examining how local communities can meet net zero objectives while positively supporting vulnerable households and businesses. As part of this, I am leading the development of local scenario narratives to articulate plausible energy futures, as a basis for exploring options for new technologies, business models and institutional arrangements. This project is led by Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network (WREN), and is funded by Western Power Distribution (WPD) through Ofgem’s Network Innovation Allowance competition. Co-Investigator.
SHIFFT - Sustainable Heating: Implementation of Fossil-Free Technology (2019-2021)
SHIFFT is a €5.7M research project supported by INTERREG 2 Seas led by the University of Exeter. The project aims to support cities in four European countries (Brugge, Mechelen, Middelburg and Fourmies) in developing strategies to decarbonise their heat as well as to help communities develop practical heat solutions. Research Fellow.
Energy Democracy and the Politics of Energy Transition in African Countries (2020-21)
Supported by the UKRI/GCRF ‘Beyond Technology’ stream, this project is examining the role of energy democracy and inclusivity across three African countries: Lesotho, South Africa and Nigeria. Led by University College London and working with partner institutions in the UK and Africa, the Energy Policy Group is providing insights into how policy, regulation and wider governance frameworks can align to help foster more inclusive and democratic energy systems across diverse political and geographical contexts. Co-Investigator.
IGov2: Innovation and Governance for Future Energy Systems (2016-19)
The second phase of an EPSRC project, IGov 2 examined the level, type and speed of energy system change within GB and internationally, how existing and new energy system actors are responding, and how this is shaping future energy systems. The project website, outputs and final report are available here. Research Fellow.
Stepping Up (2015-20)
Stepping Up was a three year EPSRC project led by University of Manchester focusing on innovation in the context of the nexus between water, energy and food systems. The project as a whole used a mixed method approach, consisting of quantitative and qualitative modelling techniques to understand the processes, implications and challenges of scaling up nexus-innovations to achieve transformational change at different scales. Recognising the critical importance of a transdisciplinary approach, we are engaging with stakeholders throughout the project to develop insights into the drivers, motivations, enablers, and constraints of up-scaling nexus-innovation in the UK. My specific role was in leading the Policy and Governance Work Package. The project website, outputs and final report are accessible here. Research Fellow.
Social Capital in Energy System Change (2014-15)
This European Social Fund (ESF) project developed out of my doctoral study on community energy. This project in particular focused on characterising the nature and role of bonding, bridging and linking social capital, and assessing the role of social capital more broadly in supporting, challenging and steering energy system change. Research Fellow.
From local to global value: the transformational nature of community energy (2011-2016)
This research developed a rich understanding of the role and value of community energy, and wider societal engagement more generally, in the transformation of the UK energy system. Analysis of the social, economic and environmental impacts of a specific community energy project in Cornwall, UK illustrate the breadth and scale of potential local impacts. Moreover, the community energy movement, along with the expansion of parallel ‘local energy’ efforts is indicative of heightened democratisation in the UK energy system. A link to the thesis can be found here. This was a European Social Funded (ESF) doctoral study, superviser by Professor Catherine Mitchell (Exeter) and Dr Andy Angus (Cranfield)
Energy Security in a Multipolar World (2010-11)
ESMW was an ESRC/EPSRC funded interdisciplinary research cluster, bringing together researchers from multiple disciplines including energy policy, international relations, sociotechnical transitions and supply chain analysis to analyse the various temporal and dimensional aspects of energy security. The project website and outputs can be found here. Research Associate.
Publications by category
Publications by year
External Engagement and Impact
I co-founded ExeterEnergy, an interdisciplinary network of 150+ energy researchers at the University of Exeter
External reviewer for several energy-related MSc programmes for Universities of Oxford and Sussex
Regular reviewer for: Energy Research and Social Science, Environmental Politics, Energy Policy; Energy Strategy Reviews; Environment and Planning A; Energies; Science and Culture; Local Environment; and Energy Sources Part B: Economics, Planning and Policy
Information not currently available
Supervision / Group
- Helen Poulter Adaptive Governance for Energy System Decentralisation: A case study of the National Electricity Market in Eastern Australia (2021)