Recent PhDs

Neil Strachan (PhD, 2002): “Adoption and Supply of a Distributed Energy Technology”


Technical and economic developments in distributed generation represent an opportunity for a radically different energy market paradigm, and potentially significant cuts in global carbon emissions. This thesis investigates distributed generation along two interrelated themes:

1. Early adoption and supply of the distributed technology of internal combustion engine cogeneration.
2. Private and social cost implications of distributed generation for private investors and within an energy system.

Engine based cogeneration of both power and heat has been a remarkable success in the Netherlands with over 5,000 installations and 1,500MWe of installed capacity by 1997. However, the technology has struggled in the UK with an installed capacity of 110MWe, fulfilling only 10% of its large estimated potential. Site level data was obtained for all engine cogen adoptions in both countries from 1985 through 1998, supported by actual data on costs, operating experience and energy tariffs. Institutional differences between the two countries were investigated to explain this dramatic difference. Two potential explanatory factors were not pursued in detail: the role of adopter networks, and organizational decision making under falling and volatile energy prices.

An engineering economic simulation model of engine cogen investments was developed for the UK, and extended for the Netherlands. The major result of the investment model was the existence of a minimum economic size threshold, largely due to scale invariant maintenance costs. For the UK, a 140kWe unit gave a 50:50 probability of a positive NPV on investment. Therefore, the majority (>60%) of early UK adoptions of this distributed technology were questionable economic investments. In the Netherlands, lower capital and maintenance costs, together with reduced grid connection costs, reduced the minimum economic size threshold to 100kWe. Available subsidies brought this size threshold even lower to 70kWe and improved returns for all units. However, most of their units were larger than 200kWe and almost always provided significant economic savings.

This study revealed a number of key factors in shaping how the industry had evolved in each country:

  • Feed-in-tarrifs made the technology a viable investment in the Netherlands, while hindering its adopting in the UK.
  • Supplier’s commercial strategy had a significant impact on how they sought to succeed in their business (as opposed to meet their clients’ needs).
  • Only deep knowledge of clients’ needs and matching cogeneration installations to their heat and power requirements can lead to diffusion of a new technology into its ideal niche.

Now Chaired Professor of Energy at University College London (UK).

Hisham Zerriffi (PhD, 2004 co-supervised with A. Farrell): “Electric power systems under stress: an evaluation of centralised vs. distributed system architectures.” 

The issue of electric power systems under persistent and high stress conditions and possible changes to electric power systems to deal with this issue is the subject of this dissertation. The stresses considered here are not the single event type of disruptions that occur as a result of a hurricane or other extreme weather event or the large blackouts that result from a particular set of circumstances. Instead the focus is on conditions that cause systematic and long-term performance degradation of the system such as underinvestment in infrastructure, poor maintenance, and military conflict.

While it has long been recognized that persistent stresses such as conflict and war can have a large impact on electric power systems, there has been few systematic analyses of the problem. The first goal of this research was to model and quantify the reliability and economic differences between centralized and distributed energy systems for providing electricity and heat, particularly under stress conditions. This goal was met through the development of Monte Carlo reliability simulations, applied to different system network topologies. The results of those models show significant potential improvements in energy delivery with distributed systems.

The second goal was to determine the impact of heterogeneity of local loads on the desired level of decentralization of the system and the impact of decentralization on the network requirements. This goal was met through a combination of Monte Carlo simulations applied to systems with differentiated and non-coincident loads and an optimal power flow applied to a more realistic network topology. The results of those models show the potential for improvements when loads are non-coincident and micro-grids can share power as well as the fact that the power sharing may be largely limited to local clusters of micro-grids. This research also showed the need for incorporation of stress in power systems modeling and a method for characterizing stress.

Now a professor at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at UBC (Canada).

Charlie Wilson (PhD, 2008 co-supervised with T. McDaniels): “Understanding and influencing energy efficient renovation decisions”


Each social science discipline offers competing and often conflicting models of human behaviour. Differences persist because disciplinary models are founded on selective assumptions and bespoke empirical data. This thesis tests the applicability of various behavioural models against a single comprehensive data set in a focal area of environmental policy: residential energy use. In so doing, some tensions and misconceptions in the behavioural bases for energy policy are teased out. More robust approaches to the promotion of individual behaviour change are elucidated.

The first part of the thesis is an extensive review of the behavioural literature. The focus is on decision making as a precursor of behaviour that is intentional and cognitively mediated. The review considers microeconomic models of utility maximisation within a broader notion of economic rationality, and behavioural economic findings on heuristics, or simple non-optimising decision rules, that are often associated with systematic biases in decision making. The review continues by looking at other instrumental or outcome-oriented decision models from behavioural psychology and technology diffusion studies in which attitudes and perceptions play a greater role. Behavioural models from social psychology instead emphasize the constraints placed on psychological factors by a decision’s context. Contextual constraints are developed further by sociological models in which individual agency is attenuated by social and technical systems, and the normative behaviour that these imply.

The second part of the thesis picks apart an empirical dataset combining both stated and revealed preference data. 809 homeowners were surveyed on a wide range of factors relating to home renovations. The sample was intentionally biased to over-represent both energy efficient renovators, and homeowners at different stages of a renovation decision. The survey data was combined with electricity and gas consumption data from the respective utilities, and data from a supplementary survey of realtors focusing on the influence of renovations on property value.

There are various headline findings. Firstly, decisions are a process not an input-output algorithm as represented in so many disciplinary models. Influences and motivations all change over a decision process. Threshold effects are also evidenced. This suggests ways for effectively targeting financial incentives which are a key lever of residential energy policy. Secondly, emotional and aesthetic factors play a driving role in renovation decisions which are then justified as instrumental after the fact using financial or environmental rationales. This emphasizes how single cross-section research (either pre- or post-decision) will substantiate different understandings of decision making. Thirdly, renovation decisions can be distinguished by their scope. Energy efficient renovations to a home’s building envelope or energy systems are in many ways distinct from renovations to a home’s amenities and living spaces. Yet the key to promoting energy efficiency may lie in the harnessing of social norms on amenity renovations. Effective energy policy needs to look beyond the energy services supply chain. Fourthly, homeowners’ expectations for a return on their renovation investments undermine the assumption of financial rationality that pervades information-based policies. Moreover, homeowners’ own knowledge of their energy costs is characterised by pervasive uncertainty and systematic over-estimation. This can, in turn, be explained by salience, availability and anchoring biases.

Now a professor at the Tyndal Centre, University of East Anglia (UK).


Raul Pacheco (PhD, 2008): “An integrated assessment of the effects of environmental regulation, land use changes and market forces on the Mexican leather and footwear industries’ restructuring.”


Traditional theories of industrial restructuring assign the most explanatory weight of the structural change phenomenon to increasing pressures via globalization and falling trade barriers. This thesis offers a new model of thinking about industrial restructuring that includes multiple stressors. The thesis focuses on three main drivers of structural change: market pressures, environmental regulation and changes in land use and land pricing, using two case studies of leather and footwear industrial clusters in Mexico, located in the cities of León and Guadalajara.  Evidence of multiple drivers of structural change is found in the dissertation. Furthermore, responses to restructuring drivers in León and Guadalajara are found to be substantially different. Firms in the leather and footwear cluster in León have implemented countervailing strategies such as price competition, government lobbying, and more recently, investment in socio-economic research (competitiveness) projects. However, firms in the leather and footwear cluster in Guadalajara focused on a specific, high-end target market. At the larger, urban scale, footwear and its allied industries in the city of León resisted change and have tried to remain in operation while the city of Guadalajara has focused on a diversification strategy, attracting new (arguably more technically advanced) industries. This thesis offers empirical and theoretical advances. Empirically, it applies a firm demographics approach to the study of industrial clusters under multiple stressors. This approach has not been previously used on Mexican data. Theoretically, it demonstrates that future analyses of industrial complexes’ structural change can be strengthened through the use of an integrated assessment framework investigating the effect of multiple stressors (market forces, land pricing, technical change, environmental regulations, and consumer preferences) on industrial restructuring.

Now a professor Public Administration Division of CIDE (Mexico).

Negar Elmieh (PhD 2009):  “An integrated assessment of public health responses to the spread of the West Nile Virus. “

Emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases provide a challenge to public health in that the frequency, location, duration, and sequelae of the disease and outbreak are not always readily identifiable.  In the absence of such information, the need to understand what drives risk perceptions, risk trade-offs, and heterogeneity in population behaviors becomes important in designing effective and appropriate risk communications, public health messages, and interventions.  In this thesis, four studies are described that examine risk perceptions, risk trade-offs, and behavioral uncertainties as they relate to West Nile virus (WNV) prevention and control strategies.  In Chapter 2, the health belief model was used to examine the influence of health beliefs and demographics on health behaviors recommended to reduce the risk of WNV.  Results showed that health beliefs and subsequent behaviors varied based on the perceived risk and disease context.  Respondents were more likely to engage in recommended health behaviors if they received timely information, understood the benefits of a particular behavior, and lived in areas exposed to WNV.  In Chapter 3, risk trade-offs of WNV interventions were examined between laypeople and health experts using multi-criteria decision analyses. Laypeople perceived some WNV interventions to be more effective than health experts reported them to be.  Health experts were most concerned about the effectiveness of such interventions. This showed that laypeople were more willing to make risk trade-offs given the scenario.  In Chapter 4, probabilistic modeling techniques were used to characterize variability and uncertainty in population, environmental, pesticide, and exposure characteristics.  By modeling a realistic mosquito abatement campaign, we found that children under 6 are potentially at risk of exposure to malathion levels that exceed standards set by Canadian and US regulatory agencies.  Chapter 5 explored behavioral and demographic risk factors associated with risk perceptions of WNV and WNV interventions.  Unique associations were found which merit further study to understand the extent of their relationships.  Together, these studies highlight the importance of targeted programs and risk communications to specific sub-populations bridging knowledge gaps.  Though the findings are specific to WNV, their implications are far-reaching and useful in preparing for other emerging and re-emerging diseases.

Now a professor at Quest (Canada).

Shannon Hagerman (PhD 2009, co-supervised with T. Satterfield): “Adapting conservation policy to the impacts of climate change: an integrated examination of ecological and social dimensions of change”


Recognition of the impacts of climate change has prompted re-assessment of existing conservation policy frameworks (here thought of as collections of means and objectives that reflect values, beliefs and expectations of control). The concern is that changing temperature and precipitation regimes will alter an extensive range of biological processes and patterns. These system dynamics are at odds with long-established conservation policies that are predicated on assumptions of stable biodiversity targets (e.g. species or ecosystems), and that seek to protect these targets by means of static protected areas. Efforts to address this challenge have so far originated from the fields of ecology and biogeography and include the core adaptive strategies of expanding protected areas and implementing migration corridors. The purpose of this research was to reach beyond these disciplines to integrate across a set of ecological and social insights to develop a more holistic understanding of challenge of adapting conservation policy to the impacts of climate change. Two overarching questions guided this research: 1) do the impacts of climate change necessitate a different set of means, objectives and expectations than are indicated by current conservation adaptation proposals (i.e. proposals that include new protected areas and migration corridors as the primary adaptive strategy); and 2) if there is evidence that this is so, what are the barriers to implementing a policy framework with new means, objectives and expectations?

Using a combination of case study, expert elicitation, and ethnographic methods, the results of this thesis provide empirical evidence that the impacts of climate change are seen by many experts to implicate the need for changes in conservation policy that include consideration of interventions such facilitating species distributions through disturbance, assisted migration, revised objectives, and triage-like priority setting. Yet simultaneously there is evidence of a publicly precautionary ambivalence towards these alternative elements of a potentially new policy framework, combined with durable more preservationist (less engineering) conservation values. It is contended that these value-based commitments have in part, shaped the adaptive response so far. Combined, these results highlight that policy adaptation within “science-based” conservation is a tangle of social dynamics, including durable preservationist-type values and related resistance to anticipated difficult tradeoffs implicit in a more transformative decision framework.

Now a visiting scholar at the the Institute for Resources & Sustainability at UBC (Canada).

Eric Mazzi (PhD 2010): “An integrated assessment of climate change policy, air quality and traffic safety for passenger cars in the UK.” 


Climate change mitigation policies applied to passenger cars can be effective in reducing tailpipe CO2 rates by changing vehicle mass, fuels, and drive-train technology. However, these same factors can lead to changes in vehicle emissions, vehicle safety, and, consequently, changes in health outcomes from air pollution and traffic collisions. These relationships are examined using the UK as a case study where tax regimes based on tailpipe CO2 emission rates have been in place since 2001.

Policymakers are tasked to design CO2 policies for passenger cars, but the effectiveness of new policies will depend on how well climate mitigation is balanced with other relevant risks. I examine the rationale and introduce the basic framework for an Integrated Assessment approach to quantitatively assess passenger car CO2 policies. As industrialized countries transition to more heterogeneous fleets with increasing uptake of alternative fuels and technologies, the importance of decision criteria choices, risk metrics, system boundaries, and inclusion of all relevant risks using an Integrated Assessment framework will be increasingly critical.

Since 2001, there has been a strong growth in diesel car registrations in the UK. For 2001-2020, I estimate that switching from gasoline to diesel cars reduces CO2 emissions by 0.4 mega-tonnes annually. However, current diesel cars emit higher levels of PM10 and the switch from gasoline to diesel cars is estimated to result in 90 additional deaths annually (range 20-300) from 2001-2020.

The UK has also had an increase in registrations of lighter vehicles. The relationship between tailpipe CO2 emission rates, vehicle mass, and traffic safety risks were examined. The two-car “first law” fatality risk ratio for drivers of lighter cars relative to drivers of heavier cars was estimated to be the mass ratio raised to the power 5.3.  Independent estimates of driver killed or serious injury risk in two-car collisions were found to be inversely related to vehicle CO2 emission rates. Scenario analyses show that policies combining incentives for lighter cars with a 1,600 kg upper limit for new cars should simultaneously achieve traffic safety and climate mitigation goals more effectively than policies with no upper limit on mass.

Now running the innovative Clean Energy Engineering Masters program at UBC (Canada).


Sonja Klinsky (PhD 2010): Conceptions of justice in mitigation and adaptation to climate change


Climate change presents profound justice dilemmas because of its asymmetrical costs and benefits.  This is complicated by the tendency of both climate change and justice to change their appearance across contexts.   This dissertation explores how arguments about justice are used in debates about how climate policy should be designed.

Part A focuses on how arguments about justice have been used in debates about ideal architectures for international climate policy.  A framework for analysing international climate policy proposals is developed using literature from both the philosophy and policy analysis communities.  This analysis identifies three archetypal approaches to climate change policy at this level, each of which has potential justice implications.

Part B explores public perceptions of justice in mitigation and adaptation climate policy contexts.  This section creates and applies a methodology to explore the arguments about justice considered relevant by lay public participants in a series of climate policy decision dilemmas.  Among other results, this part highlights the importance of framing in considerations of justice in climate policy.

Finally, Part C explores climate policy dilemmas currently faced by policy insiders at the sub-national level, and cross-examines the views policy-insiders and the public think each other have on these issues.  This part of the thesis identifies a range of specific justice dilemmas at the sub-national level.  It also suggests that mis-communication between policy insiders and the public may limit the range of climate policies considered politically feasible.

Four lessons emerge from this dissertation.  First, justice is pragmatically important when developing climate policy.  Second, there has been a systemic lack of integration across academic, policy and public communities on questions of justice and climate policy.  Third, climate change and justice have multiple faces.  How climate change policy decisions are framed will shape the arguments stakeholders are likely to consider relevant.  Finally, methodologically a mixed methods approach may be of use in other similarly ambiguous research contexts.  Overall, explicit recognition of the importance and complexity of justice in climate policy decision-making may help us design more effective and desirable climate policies.

Now a professor at the  School of Sustainability the University of Arizona (USA).


Brian D Gouge (PhD 2012):  Modeling and Mitigating the Climate and Health Impacts of Emissions from Public Transportation Bus Fleets: An Integrated Approach to Sustainable Public Transportation


Public transportation has been widely promoted as a means of increasing the sustainability of urban transportation systems; however, the adverse impacts of these systems are often downplayed or overlooked.  An integrated assessment model was developed to explicitly address the adverse climate and health impacts of the primary exhaust emissions from heavy-duty transit bus fleets.  Models of the climate and health impact pathways were developed at several different spatial scales (e.g., macro, meso, and micro).  These models were used to quantify the potential of a novel operational control strategy based on vehicle scheduling optimisation to reduce the impacts and costs of operating a transit bus fleet.  The optimisation was found to reduce impacts and costs, but it also showed that transit agencies that optimise for operating costs and/or climate impacts alone may inadvertently increase exposure and health impacts  , highlighting the need for an integrated assessment approach.  In developing the impact pathway models, particular attention was devoted to exploring and evaluating methods of modeling vehicle activity and emissions as well as the implications of these methods on estimating exposure.  Traditional, regional/macro scale assessments based on emissions inventories were found to underestimate exposure and health impacts because they failed to account for intra-regional spatial variability in and the relationship between emissions and populations.  In addition, emissions modeling approaches based on distance-based emission factors were found to poorly characterise the spatial distribution of emissions and underestimate total emissions in comparison to modal modeling approaches because they do not fully account for the effects of vehicle activity on emissions.  However, while modal modeling approaches have several advantages, these models may still be biased as a result limited calibration.  An evaluation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s MOVES model, a modal model, revealed significant biases in the predictions of NOX, PM, and THC emissions from both diesel and CNG transit buses, suggesting that the model would benefit from further calibration and that the results it generates should be interpreted with care.