Dr Federico Caprotti
Professor of Human Geography
Amory Building, University of Exeter, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4RJ , UK
Office hours: Office hours in term 1 will be bookable on an ad-hoc basis: please email me directly to book a time.
Office hours in term 1 will be bookable on an ad-hoc basis: please email me directly to book a time.
Federico Caprotti is a human geographer interested in sustainable cities and the green economy. He has worked on nature and the city from a historical and visual viewpoint, and has more recently worked on the off-grid city and renewable energy infrastructures in South Africa, and eco-city and smart city projects in China and the EU. Theoretically, Federico's work draws on a range of approaches to urban socio-environmental and technological change, including urban political ecology, studies of socio-technical transition, and Global South urbanism.
Over the past few years, Federico has built a portfolio of funded research work on off-grid urbanism, the smart city and platform urbanism. Since 2015, Federico's research has been funded by over £2.2m from a range of funding bodies in the UK, EU, China, Taiwan and South Africa, including the ESRC, British Academy, Royal Society and UK Energy Research Centre. Additionally, since 2022 he has been involved in consultancy with external partners, on evaluation systems for large-scale megaprojects: this work has attracted £449.5K since 2022.
Examples of past research projects and research networks led by Federico include: 1.) the €1.4m ‘Smart Eco-Cities for a Green Economy (SMART-ECO)’ research consortium, which involved researchers in the UK, the Netherlands, France, Germany and China. SMART-ECO was funded by the ESRC, China’s NSFC, and the national research funding agencies of France, Germany, and the Netherlands; 2.) a £403K ESRC Urban Transformations project on energy transitions in South African municipalities.
Federico was a Fellow (2018-21) of the Alan Turing Institute, and in 2020 was awarded the 2020 Newton Prize, in the Chair's Prize category. The £500K prize is for a project linking off-grid solar energy to sustainable refrigeration-based businesses, run by women entrepreneurs, in Cape Town, South Africa. Since 2016 Federico has been an Affiliated Research Fellow of the Institute of Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China. In 2017, a paper he was lead author on was named as one of the 25 most significant papers published in the past 40 years in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.
Broad research specialisms:
Nature and the city; urban political ecology; sustainable cities; eco-cities; smart cities; platform urbanism.
BA (Hons) Geography, Oxford University;
DPhil Geography, Oxford University;
Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice, University of Plymouth;
Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
Federico joined the University of Exeter as associate professor in human geography in 2016, and in 2020 became a professor of human geography. He has previously lectured at the universities of Leicester, Oxford, UCL, and Plymouth. Prior to joining Exeter as associate professor in human geography, Federico was senior lecturer and then reader in cities and sustainability at King’s College London. Federico holds a bachelor’s and doctoral degree from Oxford University, and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
Research group links
My main research interests are in the relationship between nature and the city, and in the ways in which discourses, urban plans, visualities and geographical imaginations and visions of the city are used to shape urban and societal futures. I have carried out historical work on these topics, focusing on the construction of new towns and on visualities associated with technology. More recently, over the past ten years I have been working more closely on contemporary eco-city and smart city projects, with a focus on new-build and retrofit urbanism in China and Europe. My research is informed by conceptual approaches including urban political ecology, cultural economy, and critical approaches to the study of transitions.
For a full list of grants see the next section below. For information on consultancy, please contact me directly.
Urban infrastructures and the on/off-grid city: investigating the lived experiences of heterogeneous infrastructures in informal settlements (Royal Society/British Academy APEX Fellowship, £99.6K) (2022-24; Role: PI)
The project brings together perspectives from the social sciences and engineering that aim to understand how the lived experience of infrastructure among informal settlement residents can inform the planning and design of future energy and other infrastructures in similar contexts.
UMBANE: powering innovative sustainable businesses with productive use appliances in South African informal settlements at the margins of the grid (Newton Fund, £497K) (2021-22; Role: PI)
The UMBANE ('umbane' means 'electricity' in Xhosa) project tackles the key issue of how to provide refrigeration services to informal settlements by linking refrigeration capacity to solar microgrids, and using fridges as productive use appliances that can function as the core technology around which small entrepreneurial businesses, run by female entrepreneurs, can be built. The grant was expanded through the follow-on award of a GCRF / Newton Fund Consolidation Account award for 2022-23 (£39K, see details in the full grants list below), and with an award from the UK Energy Research Centre for 2022-23 (UKERC) (£58K, see details in the full grants list below).
Experimenting with data-driven approaches to well-being in off-grid informal urban settings (British Academy-GCRF, £297,751) (2019--22; Role: PI)
The project researches the link between wellbeing and the provision of renewable, off-grid energy in informal
settlements in South Africa. It will provide detailed, qualitative and quantitative data on off-grid energy
provision impacts on wellbeing in the poorest South African households. Data will be sourced using innovative, app-based digital methodologies, and interviews and other qualitative methods. The project unites engineers and social scientists through the main project activity: an intervention to bring solar home systems and a minigrid to a small informal settlement in Cape Town, that has not been electrified. The project aims to speak to South African policy and private sector audiences and to the broader sub-Saharan African challenge of wellbeing and energy in informal settlements. The project is in collaboration with local NGO and private sector partners, as well as with the University of Cape Town.
Citizenship and the Chinese Smart City: China’s Social Credit System Experiment (Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation Research Grant) (€72.,000) (2019-23. Role: PI)
The project studies the recent roll-out of a state-wide digital social credit system in China, as an experimental form of urban governance. The project involves collaboration with National Taiwan University.
Understanding gender and place-based differences in Caribbean health: connecting data and researchers for greater understanding of complex health inequalities (Internal GCRF Facilitation Fund, £41,794) (2019-20; Role: Co-I)
The project aims to understand the gender and place-based factors affecting Type 2 diabetes mellitus in Caribbean populations. My role in this project led by Dr. Karyn Morrissey at the University of Exeter's Medical School, Truro, is to focus on designing healthy urban spaces from a gender and place perspective. The projct is collaborative with universities in Jamaica and Barbados, and with the University of York in the UK.
Smart Eco-Cities for a Green Economy (SMART-ECO) (ESRC total: £382,000; consortium total of €1,100,000) (2015-18. Role: PI).
SMART-ECO is a large international research consortium trying to tackle the question of how new-build and retrofitted smart eco-city projects in Europe and China can be critically understood in light of their use as experimental spaces in which transitions to a green economy can be tested. The project involves researchers, including postdoctoral staff, at universities in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, France and China.
Urban Transformation in South Africa Through Co-Designing Energy Services Provision Pathways (URBATRANS) (ESRC-NRF; ESRC total: £399,348) (2016-19. Role: PI).
URBATRANS is a collaborative international research project, jointly led by the universities of Exeter and Cape Town, and involving Sustainable Energy Africa. It tries to tackle some of the questions around unequal energy provisions in selected municipalities in South Africa through a process of co-design with stakeholders.
Probability and Uncertainty in Risk Estimation and Communication: A UK-China Collaboration (NERC-ESRC total: £149,046) (2016-19. Role: Co-I).
The project aims to assess the communication and assessment of risk, with a focus on Chinese urban areas.
2022-24: Urban infrastructures and the on/off-grid city: investigating the lived experiences of heterogeneous infrastructures in informal settlements (APEX Fellowship, Royal Society/British Academy, total: £99.6K) (Role: PI).
2022-24: Royal Society Public Engagement Grant, 2022-24 (£10K) (Role: PI)
2022-23: Energy, gender and financial inclusion in the off-grid city: enabling female entrepreneurship in informal settlements in South Africa (GCRF / Newton Fund Consolidation Account, total: £39.2K) (Role: PI)
2022-23: EDI-GEN: Equality, diversity and inclusion in energy systems: community and gender perspectives (UK Energy Research Centre, total: £58K) (Role: Co-I).
2022-23: Design of a Long-Term Monitoring and Management Plan (consultancy project, total: £449.5K) (Role: Co-I).
2022: Co-developing evidence-based policy learning for supporting energy services delivery in South Africa’s informal settlements (Research England Policy Support Fund, total: £29.9K) (Role: PI).
2021-22: Producing transdisciplinary knowledge on user experiences of renewable energy at the margins of the grid: Valuing local knowledge in the development and use of sustainable environmental solutions in Qandu Qandu, South Africa (NERC Discipline-Hopping Award, total: £15.6K) (Role: Co-I).
2021-22: Newton Fund Chair's Prize: UMBANE: powering innovative sustainable businesses with productive use appliances in South African informal settlements at the margins of the grid (Newton Fund total: £497K) (Role: PI)
2020: Open Innovation Fund grant for governmental networking event: £1,690
2019-21: Experimenting with data-driven approaches to well-being in off-grid informal urban settings (BA GCRF total: £297,751.50) (Role: PI).
2019-22: Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation research grant, total: €72,000 (Role: PI).
2019-20: GCRF Facilitation Fund Award, total: £41,794 (Role: Co-I).
2019: EPSRC GCRF Impact Accelerator Award, total: £21,445 (Role: PI).
2019: Internal GCRF bid development grant, total: £1,000 (Role: PI).
2018: Mars Antarctica (MBR Space Settlement Challenge), total: £12,000) (Role: PI).
2016-19: Urban Transformation in South Africa Through Co-Designing Energy Services Provision Pathways (URBATRANS) (ESRC-NRF; ESRC total: £399,348) (Role: PI).
2016-19: Probability and Uncertainty in Risk Estimation and Communication: A UK-China Collaboration (NERC-ESRC total: £149,046) (2016-19. Role: Co-I).
2015-18: Smart Eco-Cities for a Green Economy (SMART-ECO) (ESRC total: £382,000; consortium total of €1,100,000) (Role: PI).
2015-16: Sir Richard Trainor PhD studentship. Funded studentship for one student to work on smart cities, with industrial supervision from IBM (£45,000)
2011-12: Royal Geographical Society Small Research Grant (£2,800)
2009-11: Nuffield Foundation Social Sciences Research Grant (£8,000)
2009-10: British Academy Small Research Grant, 2009-10 (£7,500)
2008-09: Royal Geographical Society-EPSRC Small Research Grant (£2,150)
2006-08: British Academy Small Research Grant (£5,850)
I was a co-founder and currently co-lead (with Jason Baskin, English) the Exeter Urban Research Network at the University of Exeter.
Publications by category
Publications by year
External Engagement and Impact
2017: A paper I was lead author on was named as one of the 25 most significant papers published in the past 40 years in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.
2016: Invited to become an IAPS Global Research Fellow by the Institute of Asia and Pacific Studies at the University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China.
2016: Nominated for an AXA Research Foundation award in urban vulnerability in the Global South.
2013: Rockefeller Foundation Academic Writing Residency.
2012: Birmingham University fellowship (declined).
2006: Wolfsonian Fellowship, Florida International University (declined).
I have assessed grants for the ESRC and AHRC, and for multiple national research agencies including those of Poland and Switzerland. I regularly participate in grant assessment panels, including recently:
2019-21: European Commission Horizon 2020 grant monitor. This involves face to face and virtual grant assessments in Turin and Brussels, and assessment of a policy roundtable in Brussels.
2020: Member of international assessment panel, JPI Urban Europe Positive Energy Districts programme.
2020: Member of International Advisory Panel, Netherlands Research Agency - China Academy of Sciences joint call on green cities
2020: International Expert Panel member, KTH Digital Futures, Stockholm
2018: Panel member, JPI Urban Europe call
Associate Editor, Palgrave Communications (to 2020) and Humanities and Social Sciences Communications (from 2020)
Member of the ESRC Peer Review College.
External examiner, MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development, The Bartlett School of Planning, UCL (2017-20), and MSc Ecx-Cities, School of Geography and Planning, University of Cardiff (2018-21)
2016: ‘Analysing the actually existing UK smart city’, Annual Conference of the Royal Geographical Society - Institute of British Geographers, 31 August 2016 (with Rob Cowley and Simon Joss).
2016: Invited plenary speaker at an AHRC Network conference on ‘Smart City Futures and Social Justice’ at the University of Leeds, 29-30 June 2016.
2016: Organizer and chair of the funded ‘Urban Futures: Interrogating Metrics and the City’ workshop, King’s College London, 8 June 2016.
2016: ‘Introduction: metrics and sustainable urban futures’, at the ‘Urban Futures: Interrogating Metrics and the City’ workshop, King’s College London, 8 June 2016.
2016: Invited speaker on ‘Sustainable Urbanism in China’ at University College Maastricht, The Netherlands, May 2016.
2016: Invited panellist at a workshop on ‘Living in the Anthropocene: Defetishizing the City’, University of Westminster, London, April 2016.
2015: Invited to deliver a talk on smart cities as part of the Chevening-Gurukul Leadership Programme, hosted by King’s India Institute for Indian technology entrepreneurs and NGOs.
2015: ‘’Comfort is the ultimate aim of living’: exploring eco-urbanism in the Age of Crisis’, invited talk at University College London, 3 March 2015.
2014: Delivered an invited, plenary seminar talk on smart cities to the 2nd Urbanization and Global Environmental Change conference, Taipei, Taiwan, 6-8 November 2014.
2013: Caprotti F and Tan-Mullins M (2013) Social resilience and eco-cities in China. Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center, Italy, 18 November 2013.
2013: Chair, session on ‘Old limits, new limits? Bringing sectors and cities into focus.’ Cities: New Limits to Growth Conference, King’s College London, 4 October 2013.
2011: Invited talk: ‘Sectoral emergence and the cultural economy: the cleantech sector, 1990-2010’, University of Nottingham Ningbo, China, 4 May 2011.
2010: Invited talk on ‘Teaching sustainability and eco-city research’, Geography Head Teachers Conference, Plymouth, 15 November 2010.
2010: Invited lecture, ‘Geographies of transition: a cultural political economy of the 'Cleantech Revolution'’. Department of Geography, Seoul National University, Seoul, 14 April 2010.
2010: Invited seminar, ‘Between environmental discourse and materiality: the discursive logic of sectoral emergence in the cleantech sector, 2003-2010’, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, February 2010.
2015: interviewed by BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth programme, and asked to talk about my eco-cities research.
2015: I was interviewed and cited in an article in Geographical on Masdar eco-city. See: www.geographical.co.uk/places/cities/item/534-living-in-a-sustainable-laborator
2014: interviewed for France-Ouest for an article on Chinese special economic zones.
2009: interviewed on Italian national radio news (Radio 3 Scienza) on the subject of carbon emissions reductions negotiations in China and India in the run-up to the Copenhagen Climate Summit.
2009: The Street, a US financial markets magazine, asked me to write an Op-Ed column focusing on the run-up to the Copenhagen Climate Conference. The column was published on 8 October 2009. Available at: www.thestreet.com/story/10607635/1/governments-should-listen-to-green-investors.html
2009: invited to take part in a published discussion on ‘green licensing’ by SEED Magazine. This was published by the magazine in August 2009. Available at: seedmagazine.com/content/article/intellectual_property_who_owns_green_tech
Information not currently available
Supervision / Group
- Dr Robert Cowley
- Dr Jonathan Phillips
- Augustin Bauchot
- Helena Hastie