School of GeoSciences

School of GeoSciences

**Please note that as of early 2015 Dr Lovell is on leave from her job at Edinburgh University, and is based at the University of Tasmania, Australia**

Understanding processes of policy and technology innovation

My research analyses contemporary sociotechnical transitions, playing close attention to the policies, practices and politics of change. It furthers our understanding of why and how technology and policy change takes place in response to big environmental problems such as climate change, focused on two empirical strands: low energy housing, and the commodification of carbon. My current more specific research interests are about innovation in infrastructure, and standards as sites of innovation (see, for example, a recent paper in Economy and Society about climate change and financial accounting standards).

One example of an original contribution I have made to scholarship is in establishing that the ability of ‘innovation niches’ (small-scale sites of experimentation with new ideas and technologies) to act as nodes of learning is severely constrained in conditions where organisations with strong environmental values are central to these niches (EPC, 2009; TASM, 2008; EPA, 2007). I found in my research that there is simply too much at stake for problems with low carbon niches to be widely disseminated. Instead, the actors involved concentrated on publicising what worked well. Such actions are readily understandable in the context of theories of policy change, environmental politics and policy discourse, where knowledge and power are closely interlinked.

Developing new ways of seeing things and finding common (often neglected) ground between disciplines is a major motivation for my research. I lead the interdisciplinary Environment and Society Research Group in the School of GeoSciences at Edinburgh, you can find out more about us by reading our blogs, eg on Environmental Governance, and Earth Observation and Spatial Analysis.

You can see an example of some of the climate change research that I do in the following video of a lecture I gave in the Edinburgh University 2012 Our Changing World public lecture series.

Low Energy Housing and Smart grids

I am a Co-Investigator on a four year EPSRC project ('IDEAL: Intelligent Domestic Energy Advice Loop'; 2013-2017), working with computer scientists using smart sensor data from 600 homes to better understand energy behaviours at home. Our aim is to use fine-grain data on energy consumption in the home to infer behaviour, and thereby provide more effective tailored feedback. Some of our IDEAL study homes will be at the Derwenthorpe Housing Development in York, and we are working with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and selected residents at Derwenthorpe on an associated research project (2014-2017) to investigate energy feedback.

I am also a Co-Investigator on a second EPSRC project TEDDInet ('Transforming Energy Demand through Digital Innovation'; 2013-2017) - a network project designed to maximise the outputs and impact of over 20 smart grid related projects funded by the EPSRC.

I am currently a Co-Investigator on an UK Research Council Energy Programme large grant called 'Heat and the City'. We are investigating the scope for district heating in Edinburgh and Glasgow, using ideas from science and technology studies, politics and sociology. I have been most closely involved with the residential component of Heat and the City project, researching the recent implementation of district heating in two social housing developments, one in Edinburgh and one in Glasgow.

These projects build on previous work I have done on low energy housing, looking at the role of pioneering low energy or 'zero carbon' housing in catalysing policy change in the UK (see Publications). Here I use theories of sociotechnical change and policy discourse to examine policy and technology changes in the late 1990s, furthering our understanding of why pioneers got involved and what effect they had.

Policy outreach and fostering research impact is an integral part of the work that I do. Examples of activities and reports stemming from my research on low energy housing and smart grids include:

  • Leading a study for ClimateXChange, commissioned by the Scottish Government, on Energy Productivity (2013-14)
  • Invited member of a UK government Expert Panel on Household Energy Behaviour (for the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change; 2012+);
  • Leading the Work Package on Data Acquisition (one of four project Work Packages) for the 1.9M IDEAL project in conjunction with Changeworks – a non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Edinburgh - and in close collaboration with other project partners (British Telecom, Carnego (sensor company) and Ewegeco (energy monitoring device company));
  • Co-authored report to Edinburgh City Council (2013) on their residential district heating programme (based on fieldwork I led interviewing householders (#20) at a social housing development in Edinburgh, as part of the ESRC Heat and the City project);
  • ESRC Fellowship for a secondment in UK Parliament (3 months; 2003), authoring a briefing paper for parliamentarians on a new prefabricated housing policy entitled ‘Modern Methods of Construction’;
  • Co-author of a report on low energy housing transitions for the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) (requested evidence for the 26th RCEP Report of the Urban Environment; 2006);
  • a study for UN Habitat (2009) on low cost low energy housing solutions (co-authored with an Edinburgh University Carbon Management MSc student, Mark Giorgetti).

Fungible Carbon

My research on a Nuffield Fellowship (Fungible Carbon; 2008-2013, with Professor Donald MacKenzie) involved empirical investigation of carbon markets, carbon financial accounting, and forest carbon. Building on my PhD (2005) on UK low carbon housing transitions, during the Fellowship I further developed the integration of theories of policy change and environmental politics from Human Geography, and theories of technology change (actor-network theory, sociotechnical transitions) from Science and Technology Studies. Using these literatures I have developed new insights from original empirical research on, for example, the role of professional accounting organisations in the day-to-day operation of carbon markets (Antipode, 2011), discourses of carbon offsetting (EPA, 2009), the politics of carbon offset technologies (NPE, 2011), and the role of standards in processes of innovation (Economy and Society, 2014).

Examples of my policy outreach roles, activities and reports in this research field include:

  • Invitation to become a member of the international Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB) Technical Working Group (2009-2013), and subsequently leading two consultation responses for the CDSB on carbon financial accounting to the International Accounting Standards Board 2011 Agenda Consultation, and the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group Emissions Trading Schemes Consultation, April 2013;
  • Leading an international team of accounting and business school academics to research the financial accounting aspects of the European Emissions Trading Scheme, producing a joint report for the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants (ACCA) and the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) – Accounting for Carbon (2010);
  • Leading an international 2-day Carbon Financial Accounting Workshop in January 2013 in Edinburgh, co-hosted with industry partners IETA and CDSB, and attended by a Board Member of the International Accounting Standards Board;
  • Authoring an Research Excellence Framework (REF) Impact Case Study (2013) based on my carbon financial accounting research.


I teach at a postgraduate level. Currently I run an interdisciplinary Course 'Human Dimensions of Environmental Change and Sustainability', which attracts 40-60 Masters students from across the University. I supervise Masters dissertations on a range of topics including low energy housing, environmental policy innovation, carbon accounting and ecosystem services. I have three PhD students at the moment (see PhD students), with three having successfully been awarded their PhDs in late 2013/early 2014.

External Professional roles

  • Member of the Editorial Board of the academic journal Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy (2014- )
  • External Examiner, University College London, MSc Environment, Science and Society (2013-2017).
  • Environment Section Editor for the Elsevier International Encyclopedia of Housing and
  • Co-Theme Leader of Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society (SAGES)
    Society theme (2009-2012).
  • PhD External Examiner: University of Central Europe (2012), UNSW Sydney (2012), Exeter (2010), Durham (2009).

Departmental roles

  • Head of the Environment and Society Research Group (2013- )
  • Member of the GeoSciences Equality and Diversity Committee (2014- )
  • Early Career Mentor