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Karen Parkhill
Senior Lecturer in Human Geography



Karen joined the Department of Environment and Geography in January 2015 as a lecturer in human geography.  Prior to this she was a lecturer at Bangor University and a research fellow within the Understanding Risk Research Group at Cardiff University.  

Her research interests span energy geographies and geographies of risk.  She uses qualitative methods to explore how the public engages with/resists notions of low carbon lifestyles and low carbon transitions, including examining how they themselves consume/perceive energy.

She is also interested in risk perception and how the public socially construct and engage with environmental and technocratic risks.  Such risks include: energy technologies such as civil nuclear power, renewables or coal with carbon capture and storage; climate change, and; geoengineering.  The interaction of place, space and context underpins and flows throughout all of these interests.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers and Chair of the Energy Geographies Working Group (RGS-IBG).

Twitter: @DrKAParkhill


Senior Lecturer in Human Geography Department of Environment and Geography, University of York
Lecturer in Human Geography Department of Environment and Geography, University of York
Lecturer in Human Geography SENRGy, Bangor University
Research Fellow Cardiff University
PhD Cardiff University
MSc University of Nottingham
BSc University of Central Lancashire



Welfare, Employment and Energy Demand: Examining Tensions and Opportunities in the Delivery of Demand Reduction

Energy demand reduction is a key issue for the UK as it is necessary to meet several national policy goals, including energy security, carbon emissions targets and wider sustainability aims. The challenges involved in achieving this are significant and in general there is strong recognition that it will not be achieved through technological change alone but will require changes in the way that we use energy as part of daily life. What energy is used for is in part a reflection of how governments shape objectives and investments across many different policy domains. It follows that non-energy policies, for example, relating to economic development, health and safety or consumer choice, can have major implications for energy demand. This proposed project takes on the challenge of identifying the unintended energy demand consequences of policies beyond those focused specifically on energy. The research uses the policy area of welfare and employment as a case because it includes goals that have implications in terms of increasing energy demand (e.g. economic growth), reproducing particular temporal patterns of demand (e.g. through employment policies), and reducing demand (e.g. across welfare policies, such as for housing).

The research is addressing the following key questions:

  1. How do welfare and employment policies contribute to the construction of needs, entitlements, and expectations, with regard to energy usage?
  2. Which policy goals and associated strategies in this area conflict with aims for reducing energy usage and what opportunities exist for synergy?
  3. How can policy-makers reconcile conflicting policy objectives and achieve welfare and employment goals in ways commensurate with reducing energy demand?

These research questions are being addressed through a programme of empirical research split across three interlinked work packages. Work package 1 focuses on reviewing and mapping current welfare and employment policies, along with relevant literature, empirical research and secondary data to facilitate assessment of energy demand impacts. Work package 2 builds on the review work by undertaking in-depth qualitative interviews with policy-makers and other stakeholders in the areas of welfare and employment. Work package 3 involves deliberative forum workshops with people working in both energy and welfare and employment across policy (national and regional), policy delivery, NGO's and other relevant institutions. The project will generate a rich novel data set that will be used to interrogate important questions about the role of non-energy policy in energy demand reduction.

Energy Biographies:  Understanding the Dynamics of Energy Use for Energy Demand Reduction. 

Concerns regarding climate change and the security of energy supplies mean that the transition to a secure, affordable and low carbon energy system has become a key objective of UK energy policy. It is now widely accepted that to achieve this aim we need to focus not only on low carbon forms of energy production, but also innovative ways to reduce our consumption of energy – whether in the home, workplace or in transportation.  We know that achieving significant reductions in energy consumption is not easy, and strategies to reduce energy demand need to be informed by systematic research evidence showing how and why people develop and maintain particular energy intensive lifestyles and practices. The project takes an innovative biographical approach to this question, by investigating people’s current energy use in terms of their own understandings of energy against the backdrop of their particular life-course trajectories. 

Our energy practices do not exist in isolation but are established across multiple spaces such as home, transport and work, and through a complex interplay between our own personal histories, where we come to make investments in using more or less energy intensive services, and the wider social and technical developments of particular energy systems. Building from the established understanding that people do not use energy, but rather the services made possible by energy, we adopt a holistic approach that brings into view the formation, embeddedness and development of energy practices as part of everyday life and the life-course. We use the term “energy biographies” to represent this approach, which offers the possibility to develop understanding of how significant reductions in energy use can be achieved through identifying openings for change in energy intensive life-course trajectories. Our objectives are to: 

  1. develop understanding of energy use by investigating and comparing people’s different ‘energy biographies’ across a range of social settings.
  2. examine how existing demand reduction interventions interact with people’s personal biographies and histories.
  3. develop improved understanding of how different community types can support reductions in energy consumption. 

More information is available at


2015-2017 EPSRC £299,961.63, Co-investigator, Welfare, Employment and Energy Demand: Examining Tensions and Opportunities in the Delivery of Demand Reduction
2010-2015 ESRC/EPSRC £699,910.16, RES-628-25-0028, Co-investogator, Energy Biographies: Understanding the Dynamics of Energy Use for Energy Demand Reduction
2014 Welsh Crucible Participant
2011-2012 NERC/UKERC £585,934, Co-investigator, Transforming the UK Energy System: Public Values, Attitudes and Acceptability


Current students

Kieron Iveson 2013-2016 ‘Perceptions of Justice and Equity in Energy Infrastructure: Willingness to Pay for High Voltage Overhead Transmission Lines and Loss of Natural Capital’ (co-supervised with Professor Morag McDonald, Dr Gareth Griffiths and Dr Tony Dobbins at Bangor University).
Sioned Haf 2012-2015 'Community Energy in Wales – Economic and Social Benefits' (co-supervised with Dr Gareth Griffiths and Professor Morag McDonald at Bangor University).



  • Introduction to Human Geography

Parkhill, Karen‌ 

Contact details

Dr Karen Parkhill
Senior Lecturer in Human Geography
Department of Environment and Geography
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: 01904 324694