Insight: Grantham Research Fellowship

Jeff Hardy

Jeff Hardy joined the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment as a Research Fellow in 2016 to focus on developing alternative future energy scenarios and strategic narratives around society-led low carbon transformations. As his fellowship draws to a close, he reflects on his time here.

Around a year ago, I arrived at the Grantham Institute as the first Research Fellow. I came from Ofgem, the energy regulator, where I was Head of Sustainable Energy Futures, on a one-year career break. It was a unique opportunity to take my head out of the day job and pursue all sorts of ideas I’d been gestating.

Why the Grantham Institute?

It’s a world-renowned institute, which I knew from my time at UK Energy Research Centre (also based at Imperial College London). I was also fortunate to have met the Institute’s Director of Policy and Translation, Alyssa Gilbert, during our time together advising an Energy Research Partnership horizon scanning project. From there the seed of the Fellowship was planted.

As an energy geek and regulatory policy wonk, my profile might not seem aligned with an environmental institute. However, when you look closer at the Institute’s vision – “A sustainable, resilient, zero-carbon society” – and my interests in low-carbon energy systems, transformative business models and engaging people in the low-carbon transition, things become clearer. Add to that the fact that I was the interim Head of Science for WG-III [Working Group III Mitigation of Climate Change] of the IPCC for the first six-months of my career break, and the picture is fully revealed.

Regardless of my fit, what I’ve found most satisfying has been immersing myself in an environment where you are exposed to likeminded sorts, who are coming at issues from a myriad of perspectives.

The life of a Fellow

I came to the Grantham Institute with a specific idea to research people-centric disruptive energy business models. I was fortunate to be awarded an Economic and Social Research Council Impact Acceleration Award that I sought to support me financially on this. I naively thought I would get my head down and immerse myself in a single research project, however, there is so much going on around the College and in energy research, that I ended up getting involved in all sorts of other projects as well. I’ve previously written about some of these things here. The opportunity to collaborate is a real benefit of being in a truly world-class interdisciplinary environment.

I’ve also been involved in teaching and supervising students. For example, I’m supervising the summer research projects for two students on the College’s MSc in Sustainable Energy Futures – both students are examining the disruptive potential of an energy service company business model.  This is something I’ve very much enjoyed as the College is packed full of motivated, proactive and super-bright students, which means you are kept on your toes constantly.

The Grantham Institute has an excellent reputation because it communicates its research well and translates it into ‘people speak’, making it accessible to decision makers and influencers. This is due in no small part due to its excellent policy and communications team. Being a researcher at the Grantham Institute means taking your work out to multiple audiences and ensuring it is accessible. Since I’ve been here, my numbers of Twitter and LinkedIn followers have swollen considerably!

A key role of the Research Fellow is to help expand the Grantham Institute’s network of stakeholders, to further enhance the impact of its work. Since I’ve been here I’ve made links between the Institute and my colleagues at Ofgem and the wider energy industry. An example of the latter is convening a meeting between delegates from a large energy utility company and a range of Imperial academics to discuss future energy system challenges.

Life as a Fellow can also be quite flexible – I’ve been able to satisfy the more practical and artistic sides of my brain. For example, I’ve written a chapter in Jim Al-Khalili’s forthcoming book about the future and a white paper on how consumers could pay for energy in the future for Smart Energy GB. I’ve also been working as an Affiliate with Forum for the Future on projects in India and New Zealand examining future energy system disruption.

Overall, I’m giving it five stars

My experience as the first Research Fellow has been an overwhelmingly good one. The Grantham Institute has an excellent reputation nationally and globally – being a part of it opens doors! Its reputation is well earned and is testament to its: wonderful, brilliant and inspiring people; interdisciplinary environment; positive can-do attitude; and its focus on evidence, impact and influence.

In fact, I’ve enjoyed it so much that I decided not to go back to Ofgem after my career break finished…

Good luck in your Research Fellowship application – you won’t regret it.

The call is now open for Grantham Fellowships. These posts are aimed at external stakeholders who hold positions of responsibility in industry, business, policy, or NGOs. Find out more.

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