The Heat and the City research team at the University of Edinburgh are doing independent research about innovative policy and practice for clean heat supply and low energy buildings.

We contribute to answering the complex questions confronting us about future energy provision in the face of climate disruption. Our work examines the social, political and financial factors shaping our energy technologies and energy use, and investigates how European societies are seeking to transform their energy systems to help mitigate climate change.

A social science perspective

Although energy systems and energy supply in buildings have traditionally been the domain of physical science and engineering, understanding the dynamics of energy innovation requires insights from the social sciences.

Our social science research analyses the significant uncertainties about the best ways to accelerate improvements to buildings and development of clean energy sources and technologies. Rather than narrow (and potentially misleading) technical and economic assessments, our research examines differences and similarities between societies in current provisions, and the material consequences of both political economy and legacy infrastructures, such as the UK gas grid, for contemporary innovation.

Debate has often focused on either a macro or a micro perspective: the first puts the onus on government, major utilities and investors to drive change in energy generation, supply and use; the second puts the onus on individuals and households to make different choices and to change their day to day behaviour. We pay attention instead to the ‘missing middle’ of organisation and action.

Our whole systems perspective examines the interactions between the mix of local and cosmopolitan actors who comprise urban communities: municipal authorities, public bodies, civil and commercial organisations, on the one hand, and energy, finance and legal experts active in global markets on the other. We seek to understand the socio-technical networks which stimulate innovation, in the context of uncertainties over energy policy, and increasingly centralised energy markets dominated by transnational corporations.

Our history

Our research group emerged from an early project that investigated the socio-technical development of district heat (and cooling) networks. We analysed urban heat networks in Northern Europe and the UK, demonstrating the varied business models in use, and the key roles played by urban authorities in leadership, investment and multi-party negotiation.

Findings formed the basis for capacity building workshops with practitioners and policy-makers, in turn creating further reflection and development. Read more about the original project called Heat and the City.

Our current research

Current research spans a number of areas.