Whole Systems Networking Fund: what's it for and what can it achieve?

11 May 2018

What’s it for and what can it achieve?

The Whole Systems Networking Fund is rather unique in that it’s funding collaboration, rather than research, with an emphasis on new voices and ensuring gender balance.

UKERC is distributing the funds on behalf of EPSRC because of our experience of interdisciplinary collaboration within the energy sector. We are looking for a broad portfolio of projects that reflect the current state of whole energy research in the UK and abroad. In the first open call, projects on energy and justice; sharing international development expertise; policy engagement; and women-led networking events were successfully funded.

Second open call

In the second open call we are looking for projects that complement the current portfolio. Working with EPSRC, we have identified areas of interest for further research, these are decarbonisation of heat, hydrogen, and nuclear (both fission and fusion). This is not a finite list, but more an indication of the areas where we would like to see further collaborative exploration. Project proposals in other areas are also welcome.

Using the experience and knowledge of staff at UKERC Headquarters, we can help projects to reach their full potential. We want to identify and encourage innovative approaches to whole systems energy research that can have impact beyond academia.

New voices

More traditional funding streams have protocols in place that restrict early career researchers from applying. With the Networking Fund we want to give early career researchers the opportunity to be principal investigators on projects. Not only is this excellent experience for them going forward in academia, but it also brings new perspectives to the table.

Furthermore, two of the projects funded in the first round are being led by non-academic institutions. The Fund is an opportunity for third sector and business organisations to engage with academia, and we are thrilled to be forging new connections.

Gender parity

As part of the Whole Systems Networking Fund we are examining gender balance across the energy sector. Unsurprisingly, the sector has yet to reach gender parity – men are awarded a significantly higher proportion of UKRI funding than their female counterparts. By making sure proposed projects are female-led, or have 50% participation of women, we are redressing the balance in one small way.

At UKERC, we do not see the gender imbalance as a reflection of UK capacity. We work with experienced women at a senior level who are currently under-represented in academic funding. We hope the Networking Fund will help to build awareness of this shortfall, and help remedy it in the future.

If you have an idea for a potential project then head over to the Networking Fund pages to find out more. You can always get in touch with us to discuss a potential project. We are able to help suggest project partners and avenues for further exploration.