My name is Alex Money, and I am a Programme Director at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, part of the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford.
What is my research project?
In December 2016 I was awarded approximately £360,000 through the British Academy’s Sustainable Development Programme, funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund. My project, called Making Light Work, runs through to the end of March 2018.
Making Light Work analyses a new programme, developed by the World Bank, that aims to rapidly increase the amount of energy that is generated through solar power in developing countries. The programme, called Scaling Solar, involves creating a “one stop shop” that pulls together the key elements necessary to develop and implement privately funded grid-connected solar projects, delivering electricity at competitive tariffs.
Solar power could offer a significant and sustainable complement to the energy mix of countries like Zambia, one of our key study sites. Building further upon programmes such as Scaling Solar would support many of the objectives of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, most obviously on energy, but also in terms of economic growth and infrastructure. Conversely, a lack of progress in expanding sustainable electricity generation might lead to greater energy insecurity, with the attendant risks this presents to rapidly growing and urbanising populations. The stakes could therefore not be higher.
The programme is at an early stage, with engagements in a few countries in Africa. Making Light Work is using the funding provided though the British Academy to empirically evaluate the progress being made through Scaling Solar on specific country programmes. Our objective is to identify the key factors that are necessary for the initiative to succeed at scale.
How my British Academy award helped me:
I am a relatively late arrival to the world of academia, having spent my twenties and early thirties working in finance: first as an emerging markets fund manager, and then in capital markets advisory. In the autumn of 2009, my wife and I relocated from London to Oxford, accompanied by our two young sons. At the time, the intention was to spend ten months in the university city while I completed a master's degree. Eight years later, here we still are.
After finishing my PhD in 2014, I found that the opportunities within academia that were aligned with my particular set of interests and experience were few and far between. I was fortunate to be offered some part-time work within my department as well as within Oxford’s collegiate system, that provided me with the credentials to apply for research funding. But I was especially fortunate to have a supportive family during what was a particularly uncertain period in my career. After what was a difficult year or so of sporadic employment, I gave myself a final further six months to find an opportunity to engage with academia full-time. If unsuccessful, I had determined that I would return to the stability of an income from within the private sector, even though my interests increasingly pointed me in other directions.
It was during the third of these six months that a colleague alerted me to the call from the Sustainable Development Programme of the British Academy. The submission time was tight, and successful projects would be awarded within weeks of the final deadline, so I would know the outcome within my allotted six months. This was the last application that I intended to make before leaving academia. I was therefore delighted to be shortlisted and subsequently receive one of the 16 awards that were made. This provided me with the scope to work full-time as an academic. In the subsequent months since receiving the award, further opportunities have emerged which should hopefully allow me to pursue this career for some time to come. It is therefore of little exaggeration when I say that the British Academy has made a profound contribution to shaping the course of my working life.