Spotlight on....Rebecca Ford

Spotlight on....Rebecca Ford

  • What is your current role at your Institution?

I’m a Chancellors’ Fellow at the University of Strathclyde, where I’m based between the School of Government and Public Policy and the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering. I’m also the Research Director for EnergyREV and I hold a UKRI COP 26 Fellowship.

My research explores energy challenges and transitions for a sustainable future, the role of different agents in creating change, and the implications and opportunities for innovation, infrastructure and energy culture. I am interested in how people interact with energy systems, and how social science and technological insights can be co-developed to better inform policy. 

Taking a whole systems approach is fundamental to delivering system transition for an equitable, prosperous and net zero society.  This means pulling together insights from a range of backgrounds and perspectives, both technical and social. Within EnergyREV I apply this approach to help shape the programme and align the diverse areas of research across the consortium.

  • How does this role build on previous work? 

Taking a broad, whole system approach to energy system transition underpins both my current research and my role within EnergyREV. My ability to do this stems from my diverse path through academia - I graduated as an engineer but now working predominantly in the social sciences - and the roles I have held since. 

Before moving to the University of Strathclyde I was a researcher at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford and programme manager for the Oxford Martin Programme on Integrating Renewable Energy.  In my role as programme manager, I helped facilitate interdisciplinary engagement across the diverse research team, synthesised findings across work streams and encouraged knowledge exchange within and outside of academia. 

A recently published output, where we collected perspectives from over 60 energy sector experts around the world has been published highlighting the key challenges for delivering a net-zero electricity system. *Spoiler alert* they believe it is possible technologically, but that policy leadership is needed to ensure long-term visions align with more immediate strategies, create space for new actors and business models, support innovation and skill development, and deliver alignment over time and across geographical scales of change.

Prior to this I was based in New Zealand, where I led the demand side work programme of the multi-disciplinary Renewable Energy and the Smart Grid project. I worked closely with other academics - from a range of technical and non-technical backgrounds - to identify emerging research challenges, novel and interdisciplinary methodologies for investigating them, and mechanisms to bring the project findings together to provide useful outputs for industry, policy-makers and citizen stakeholders.

  • What is the most exciting thing about the research that you have done to date?

While I find aspects of the research I do fascinating, the most exciting thing for me is the opportunity to make a tangible real world impact by engaging with those outside of academia including policymakers, industry, and the wider public.

In EnergyREV we have a Strategic Steering Group with representatives from across the energy sector including generation, networks, supply chain and government who help us ensure our work is delivering insights and evidence to those who need it. I’m also working with Matt Hannon, a co-investigator in EnergyREV, to create and present a series of podcasts for the wider public, exploring the role of smart local energy systems in delivering a net-zero future for the UK.

Alongside my role in EnergyREV, I’m working with a iPower, a social enterprise who develop and deliver low carbon projects to make clean energy affordable to all. Working with Aberdeenshire Council, iPower are leading the UK’s largest social housing solar and storage project. My role is to leverage learnings from research and help them develop a process and approach to evaluating the multiple impacts of the project. 

  • What skills and perspectives are you bringing to EnergyREV?

I bring a fairly unique whole systems perspective to EnergyREV, bridging technical and non-technical research areas, methodologies, and insights, to create a richer understanding of challenges and opportunities for energy system transition. I’ve also worked hard to ensure my work, and the work of the projects I am involved with, has outputs and insights that are useful and useable for policy and industry stakeholders. This often means asking questions or framing findings in ways that academics are not always used to doing. I’m working closely with Jo Patterson and our KMED team in EnergyREV to help ensure EnergyREV produces timely insights for our stakeholders through reports and briefing notes which you can access here