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 Richard Lowes

Richard Lowes

Associate Research Fellow

 Peter Lanyon A073


Peter Lanyon Building, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Treliever Road, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE, UK


I am a passionate and enthusiastic energy policy researcher with commercial policy experience. I also teach on a number of modules involved in environmental science and energy policy. Prior to returning to complete my PhD I was responsible for Government policy and relations at a multi-billion pound gas company.

I am generally interested in environmental issues and environmental policy and have experience in energy policy and waste management policy in both a theoretical and applied sense. I hope that my high impact work will contribute to wider environmental change by assisting the policy making process.

My primary area of focus is heat and its associated governance. Heat in general is an area which has often been overlooked by both policy makers and researchers but is a major part of the energy system; in the UK around half the energy we use as a country is for heat. I situate my research in the wide field of policy analysis but also consider wider approaches to the transformaton of large socio-technical systems (transitions theory).

I blog about these things at: https://heatpolicy.wordpress.com .

Broad research areas:

  • Energy policy,
  • heat strategy,
  • renewable heat support policies,
  • network regulatory models,
  • infrastructure transitions
  • political power


BSc (Hons) Geography and Environmental Management, University of Exeter, First Class
MSc Energy Policy and Sustainability, University of Exeter, Distinction


Recent Publications

Lowes, R., and Woodman, B. (2018) Incumbency and the transformation towards low carbon heating in the UK – Implications for policy. Available from: http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/publications/incumbency-in-the-heat-sector-implications-for-policy.html Falmouth.

Lowes, R., Woodman, B., and Clark, M. (2018) Incumbency in the UK heat sector and implications for the transformation towards low-carbon heating. Available from: http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/publications/incumbency-in-the-uk-heat-sector.html,  Falmouth.

Lowes R. Response from Richard Lowes , University of Exeter Energy Policy Group , to Public Accounts Committee Inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive ( RHI ) [Internet]. 2018. Available from: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/public-accounts-committee/renewable-heat-incentive-in-great-britain/written/80366.html

Lowes R, Woodman B, Clark M. A Transformation to Sustainable Heating in the UK: risks and opportunities for UK heat sector businesses [Internet]. Falmouth; 2018. Available from: http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/publications/sustainable-heating-in-the-uk-risks-and-opportunities.html

Lowes, R., Woodman, B and Fitch-Roy, O., (2017), Defining incubency: considering the UK heat sector, A UKERC Working Paper, http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/asset/175A3A09-8AFF-43E7-898D3BE1846C07E9/ 

Lowes, R., Woodman, B., Webb, J., Eyre, N., Hanna. R., and Gross, R, (2016), Heat in buildings: The Future of Heat: Domestic Buildings - The UK Energy Research Centre’s (UKERC) Response to the BEIS Call for Evidence, http://geography.exeter.ac.uk/media/universityofexeter/schoolofgeography/images/researchgroups/epg/BEIS_Heat_Consultation_Response_UKERC.pdf   

Lowes, R., (2016), Political Power and the Development of the GB Renewable Heat Incentive, BIEE 2016 Conference Working Paper http://geography.exeter.ac.uk/media/universityofexeter/schoolofgeography/images/researchgroups/epg/Lowes_Political_Power_Renewable_Heat_Incentive.pdf 

Lowes, R., Woodman, B. and Britton, J, (2016), Submission to the DECC Consultation The Renewable Heat Incentive: A Reformed and Re-focussed scheme, http://geography.exeter.ac.uk/media/universityofexeter/schoolofgeography/images/researchgroups/epg/RL_DECC_RHI_consultation.pdf

Lowes, R., Woodman, B., and Britton, J., (2016), Submission to the Energy and Climate Change Committee’s Enquiry into Renewable Heat and Transport Targets, http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/energy-and-climate-change-committee/2020-heat-and-transport-renewable-targets/written/31903.html

Connor PM, Xie L, Lowes R, Britton J, Richardson T. (2015) The development of renewable heating policy in the United KingdomRenewable Energy, volume 75, no. March 2015, pages 733-744, DOI:10.1016/j.renene.2014.10.056

Woodman, B., Lowes, R, (2014), There’s a hidden opportunity in the British Gas Probe, The Conversation, http://theconversation.com/theres-a-hidden-opportunity-in-the-british-gas-probe-23064


Research interests

I am primarily interested in the politics of the UK energy and environmental policy making process. My research would fit into either a sociological or public policy approach and I am generally more focussed on the 'human' side of energy than the engineering side.

I am particularly interested in how and why policy develops in particular ways, specifically how actors such as companies and trade associations are able to shape and change policy. This work builds on the theories of policy change, institutions and power.

Research projects

Power, politics and UK heat policy - PhD

Supervisors: Dr Bridget Woodman, Dr Peter Connor

Funding Body: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

My PhD research project is focussing on how policy can to help achieve the transformation to an increasingly sustainable system of providing heat in the UK. Currently the UK produces most of its heat, around 70% from fossil gas. This is environmentally and economically unsustainable as gas is a carbon based fuel and so has climate impacts and because the UK is becoming increasingly import dependent on gas.

Almost all scenarios suggest a reduced future role for gas in the UK with increases in the use of district heating and on-site heat generation expected however this represents a transformational change from the UK’s current heat regime. The focus of academic work in this area has been on modelling future heat systems and no-one has considered this transition from an energy policy perspective despite clear societal issues around economics, politics and consumer interests.

This is where my research looks to fill the gap. I plan to investigate the UK’s heat system from an interdisciplinary perspective, combining the theory around sustainability transitions with aspects of the theory of (social/political) power. The goal of my research is to understand why things have ended up being how they are, how social and political power maintain the existing system and reduce its ability to change and how policy makers can support and promote the use of increasingly sustainable heat technologies considering these issues.

Heat, Incumbency and Transformations

Principle Investigator: Bridget Woodman

Funding Body: UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC)

I am Research Fellow on this innovative project. The project is considering a UK transformation to a 100% sustainable heat system but focussing on the role of incumbent companies. It will map the current heat regime in the UK investigating who is present in the sector, consider how incumbents may be affected by the transition an then consider the socio-political impacts that these incumbents may have on a potential UK heat transformation.

More information the project can be found here.


Principle investigator: Poul Erik Morthorst, Technical Universityof Denmark (DTU)

Exeter lead: Profesor Catherine Mitchell

Funding body: Danish Innovation Fund

The FutureGas project is a major multi-disciplinary project investigating the future role of gas in Denmark. The project brings together engineers, mathematicians, social scientists and policy experts from across Europe. Our role in the project is to provide a comparative case study for Denmark, focussing on the UK, using our own expertise of the UK's energy system.

Research networks

I am:

A Member of the Energy Institute

A Member of the Sustainable Transitions Research Network

A Member of the UK Energy Research Centre


I currently contribute towards teaching in the department of Geography on an ad hoc basis.

This year I am running the seminar series for Bridget Wodman's very popular GEO2442, The Politics of Climate Change and Energy. I am also involved in both third year and MSc modules focussing on energy policy and assisit with second year research methods module. 

Supervision / Group

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