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Dr Iain Soutar

Dr Iain Soutar

Senior Lecturer in Energy Policy

 Daphne du Maurier 3067


Daphne du Maurier Building, University of Exeter,  Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE, UK


I am a social scientist focused on understanding processes of change within energy systems. I draw on ideas and methods from multiple disciplines to a) advance our theoretical understanding of energy system change and b) develop practical recommendations for stakeholders seeking to affect change towards more sustainable energy systems.

Specific research interests include:

  • The social construction of, and interaction between, the 'megatrends' of decarbonisation, decentralisation, digitalisation and democratisation 
  • The role of place-based sustainability experimentation in wider transitions
  • Community energy as a site of socio-technical innovation
  • The ways that organisations engage people and communities around novel technologies and system change more broadly
  • The role of policy, politics and governance in shaping energy system change


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

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Research interests

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.

Research projects

PUSH-IT (2023-2026)
PUSH-IT (Piloting Underground Seasonal Heat Storage In geothermal reservoirs) is a four-year Horizon Europe demonstration project focused on large-scale geothermal heat storage solutions. Within this, I am leading the work package on ‘Public engagement, societal benefit and risks’. Led by TU Delft.

Past projects

EnergyREV (2021-2023)
EnergyREV was 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 worked 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 was a project examining how local communities can meet net zero objectives while positively supporting vulnerable households and businesses. As part of this, I led 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 was led by Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network (WREN), and 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 was a €5.7M research project supported by INTERREG 2 Seas led by the University of Exeter. The project aimed 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 examined 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 provided 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.

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Journal articles

Fiander J, Walker C, Rowlands IH, Devine-Wright P, Wilson C, Soutar I, Gupta R (2024). Energy democracy, public participation, and support for local energy system change in Canada. Energy Research & Social Science, 113, 103526-103526.
Walker C, Rowlands IH, Devine-Wright P, Soutar I, Wilson C, Gupta R, Devine-Wright H, Bishwokarma J, Ford R (2024). The “four Ds” and support for Local Smart Grids: analysis from national surveys in the UK and Canada. Oxford Open Energy, 3 Abstract.
Gooding L, Devine-Wright P, Rohse M, Ford R, Walker C, Soutar I, Devine-Wright H (2023). The best-laid plans: Tracing public engagement change in emergent Smart Local Energy Systems. Energy Research and Social Science, 101 Abstract.
Soutar I, Devine-Wright P, Rohse M, Walker C, Gooding L, Devine-Wright H, Kay I (2022). Constructing practices of engagement with users and communities: Comparing emergent state-led smart local energy systems. Energy Policy, 171, 113279-113279.
Judson E, Fitch-Roy O, Soutar I (2022). Energy democracy: a digital future?. Energy Research and Social Science, 91 (September 2022) Abstract.
McKenna R, Mulalic I, Soutar I, Weinand JM, Price J, Petrović S, Mainzer K (2022). Exploring trade-offs between landscape impact, land use and resource quality for onshore variable renewable energy: an application to Great Britain. Energy, 250, 123754-123754.
Soutar I (2021). Dancing with complexity: Making sense of decarbonisation, decentralisation, digitalisation and democratisation. Energy Research & Social Science, 80, 102230-102230.
Pownall T, Soutar I, Mitchell C (2021). Re-Designing GB’s Electricity Market Design: a Conceptual Framework Which Recognises the Value of Distributed Energy Resources. Energies, 14(4), 1124-1124. Abstract.
Suckling J, Hoolohan C, Soutar I, Druckman A (2021). Unintended Consequences: Unknowable and Unavoidable, or Knowable and Unforgivable?. Frontiers in Climate, 3 Abstract.
Hoolohan C, Soutar I, Suckling J, Druckman A, Larkin A, McLachlan C (2019). Stepping-up innovations in the water–energy–food nexus: a case study of anaerobic digestion in the UK. Geographical Journal, 185(4), 391-405. Abstract.
Judson E, Fitch-Roy O, Pownall T, Bray R, Poulter H, Soutar I, Lowes R, Connor P, Britton J, Woodman B, et al (2019). The centre cannot (always) hold: examining pathways towards energy system de-centralisation. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 118 Abstract.
Hoolohan C, Larkin A, McLachlan C, Falconer R, Soutar I, Suckling J, Varga L, Haltas I, Druckman A, Lumbroso D, et al (2018). Engaging stakeholders in research to address water–energy–food (WEF) nexus challenges. Sustainability Science, 13(5), 1415-1426. Abstract.
Soutar I, Mitchell C (2017). Towards pragmatic narratives of societal engagement in the UK energy system. Energy Research and Social Science, 35, 132-139. Abstract.
Rowan JS, Carwardine J, Duck RW, Bragg OM, Black AR, Cutler MEJ, Soutar I, Boon PJ (2006). Development of a technique for Lake Habitat Survey (LHS) with applications for the European Union Water Framework Directive. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 16(6), 637-657.


(2017). Social Innovation and Sustainable Consumption. In Backhaus J, Genus A, Lorek S, Vadovics E, Wittmayer J (Eds.) , Routledge.
Britton J, Soutar I (2013). Energy Security Policy in Britain: Markets, Complexity and Challenges. In Mitchell C, Watson J, Britton J (Eds.) New Challenges in Energy Security the UK in a Multipolar World, Palgrave Macmillan, 68-91. Abstract.
Soutar I, Whiting J (2013). Energy security policy in Britain: Markets, complexity and challenges. In Mitchell C, Watson J, Whiting J (Eds.) New Challenges in Energy Security: the UK in a Multipolar World, London: Palgrave MacMillan.


Soutar I, Devine-Wright P (2022). How do Smart Local Energy System projects understand and engage with publics?. Iain Soutar. 20th - 23rd Jun 2022.
Judson E, Soutar I, Fitch-Roy O (2021). Energy democracy: a digital future?. Joint Annual Conference of the Science, Technology and Society Unit - Graz University of Technology, the Inter-Disciplinary Research Centre for Technology, Work and Culture (IFZ) and the Institute of Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society (IAS-STS). 3rd - 5th May 2021.
Soutar I (2019). Emergence and control in UK energy system democratisation. in Search of Good Energy Policy.
Soutar I (2018). Energy System Change: Insights for the Circular Economy?. Circular Economy Disruptions: Past, Present and Future. 8th - 10th Jun 2018.  Author URL.
Soutar I (2018). Understanding innovation at the Water-Energy-Food nexus. 9th International Sustainability Transitions Conference. 12th - 14th Jun 2018.
Haltas I, Suckling J, Soutar I, Druckman A, Varga L (2017). Anaerobic digestion: a prime solution for water, energy and food nexus challenges. Abstract.
Soutar I (2017). Balancing diversity and coherence in innovation space-making at the water-energy-food nexus. Energy-water-climate change nexus (EWCN) in a transitional economy: sustainability and resilience. 22nd - 26th May 2017.
Soutar I (2017). Conditions for transformation in the water-energy-food nexus. Transformations 2017: Transformations in Practice. 30th Aug - 1st Sep 2017.
Soutar I, Mitchell C (2017). Towards pragmatic narratives of societal engagement in the UK energy system. AAG Annual Meeting.
Soutar I, Mitchell C (2016). Grappling with Wickedness: the articulation of WEF nexus governance in the UK. RGS Annual Conference.
Soutar I (2015). The role of social capital in energy systems transformation: Insights from community energy. SCORAI workshop: ‘Beyond’ Transition? Understanding & Achieving Sustainable Consumption through Social Innovation. Abstract.  Author URL.
Soutar I (2015). The use (and abuse?) of evidence in the development of the UK Community Energy Strategy. the interface between sustainability research and policy. 26th - 27th Jan 2015.
Soutar I (2014). Is small-scale beautiful (and how beautiful?): Understanding the role of community energy within the wider UK energy system. Earth Systems Governance.
Soutar I (2013). What role for small-scale energy? Understanding the value of challenging large-scale lock-in. Facing the Future Symposium. 10th - 12th Apr 2013.
Rowan JS, Soutar I, Phillips GE (2006). Morphometric analysis of UK lake systems as a compliance tool for the European Water Framework Directive.  Author URL.


Soutar I, Devine-Wright P (2022). How can Smart Local Energy Systems projects and policies engage more effectively with the public?.
Soutar I, Devine-Wright P (2022). Submission to the Net Zero Review Call for Evidence, Oct 2022.
Judson E, Soutar I, Mitchell C (2020). Governance Challenges Emerging from Energy Digitalisation. EPG Discussion Paper: EPG2002.  Author URL.
Larkin A, Abdel-Aal M, Druckman A, Falconer R, Forbes P, Hoolohan C, Lumbroso D, McLachlan C, Scott M, Shu Q, et al (2019). Stepping up. What will it take to accelerate a step-change in sustainability for water, energy and food?.

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External Engagement and Impact

Administrative responsibilities

Departmental Sustainability Lead (2024-)

Theme Leader for SDG 7 (Energy) in the Global Systems Institute, involved in the co-creation of new research directions linking to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (2021-)

Co-founded ExeterEnergy, an interdisciplinary network of 150+ energy researchers at the University of Exeter (2019)

Committee/panel activities

External reviewer for UCL's MSc in Economics and Policy of Energy and the Environment (2023-) 

Expert advisor for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Local Area Energy Plan (LAEP) (2024)

Peer reviewer for research bodies: British Council; EPSRC; ESRC, UKRI, NordForsk

Committee member for BIEE (British Institute of Energy Economics) 2023 Research Conference

Academic representative for Sustainability First’s ‘New Public Interest Network’ of representatives from industry, regulators, policymakers and civil society groups (2018-2019) 

External reviewer for new MSc programmes: University of Oxford, University of Sussex

Editorial responsibilities

Peer reviewer for:
Nature Energy; Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews; Applied Energy; Energy Strategy Reviews; Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions; Energy Research and Social Science; Energy PolicyUrban Studies; Environmental Politics; Scientific Reports; Energy Sources Part B: Economics, Planning and Policy; Environment and Planning A; Energies; Local Environment; Frontiers; Science and Culture.

Review Editor for Frontiers in Climate (2023-)

Book manuscript reviewer for Palgrave; Routledge

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Supervision / Group

Postgraduate researchers

  • Basia Cieszewska Accelerating the net zero transition: the case of whole house retrofit
  • Ota Dvorak A framework for the sustainable design of floating wind arrays
  • Carlos Eduardo Paes Positive tipping points driving clean technology adoption
  • Isabella Hawkes Exploring diverse forms of public engagement with energy systems and transitions in Cornwall, UK
  • Emily Judson Governance challenges emerging from energy system digitalisation


  • Helen Poulter (2021) Adaptive Governance for Energy System Decentralisation: A case study of the National Electricity Market in Eastern Australia
  • Thomas Pownall (2022) Re-designing electricity markets for a high-renewable future

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Office Hours:

Please get in touch via email for a meeting.

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