Two PhD Positions at Urban Economics, Wageningen University

We have two PhD positions available within the large Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions International Training Network “Smart-BEEjS Project”.

The context:  As part of the Horizon2020, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, Innovative Training Networks the Smart-BEEjS Human-Centric Energy Districts: Smart Value Generation by Building Efficiency and Energy Justice for Sustainable Living project has been awarded. The project allows all researchers to participate in an exciting programme comprising international schools, workshops, and secondments at academic as well as non-academic partners, commencing 2019/2020. By the end of the programme, you will have the skills required to be transformative and influential champions and leaders of tomorrow, promoting Positive Energy Districts (PEDs) and Energy Justice for all citizens.

Smart-BEEjS is a consortium of 8 universities and research centres, supported by 16 non-academic entities, in the United Kingdom, Italy, Portugal, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Switzerland. Each of the 15 PhD researchers will be working towards a unique PhD degree, supported by a carefully chosen supervisory team that maximises scientific excellence as well as interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral collaboration.

The project will train a total of 15 students using an innovative doctoral training programme that incorporates deep training in their individual subjects, with the ability to understand and engage with the needs of citizens and communities,

Note that the positions at Wageningen University (ESR3 and ESR15) differ from the other positions within the project in terms of duration (4 years instead of 3) and appointment type (see below for specifics). For more information on the overall project and other positions:

This is also where you can apply for these two specific positions below. Please make sure to thoroughly review the requirements for the positions, especially the mobility requirements.


Position 1:

Job Title               PHD position: “Human-Centric Energy Districts: Behavioural Drivers and Barriers (ESR3)”
Job Reference   Smart BEEjS - ESR3
Contact                Michel Handgraaf ([log in to unmask])

We are looking for

The chair group Urban Economics at Wageningen University is looking for a PhD student to carry out a research project on “Human-Centric Energy Districts: Behavioural Drivers and Barriers (ESR3)”:

The success of any innovation in the energy domain, such as transitions to positive energy districts critically depends on human decision making. Such innovation by definition involves change, and such change involves many psychological processes that can help or hinder such transitions. In the case of positive energy districts, one of the major changes is a change in the levels of interdependency between agents. Where in the current system individuals, households and firms are in a (seemingly) fairly simple interdependence with energy suppliers and network companies, closely monitored by many governmental agencies, the decentralization and scaling down of such interdependencies involved with positive energy districts will, ironically, be likely to increase the complexity of the relationships between agents, not only physically (these new energy networks will involve complex linkages between many small suppliers and customers), but even more so in a psychological sense. Psychologically, the current system seems simple: you buy your energy from a supplier and it is delivered reliably at a stable price. Since the new situation makes the complexity of the system and the interdependencies much more salient for the participants, this may hinder the implementation/uptake of and satisfaction with these innovations. A transition to a positive energy district, for example, will require participants to change their levels and networks of trust, will decrease the distances between suppliers and customers. It will involve changes in the levels of energy autonomy, with an increased level of autonomy from the larger system going hand in hand with an increase in dependence on more psychologically close agents. In the current project we will investigate the behavioural drivers and barriers that help and hinder these transitions. We will do this by investigating the motivations and perceptions of agents that are currently participating in transitional energy projects, but also of the general public. It is likely that the motivations and perceptions of the small percentage of people that are already involved in transitional projects are not the same as those of the larger majority. It is paramount for scaling up such initiatives to harness the positive experiences and motivations of innovators and early adopters, but also to know the barriers and drivers that direct the decisions of the large majority (and different segments of that majority). We will use interviews, surveys, choice experiments and scenario experiments in which we investigate how behavioural factors such as interdependence, fairness and trust, need for autonomy, environmental attitude, financial considerations and social factors (such as norms and status) play a role in decisions regarding participation in positive energy districts for different subgroups.

In our project we will collaborate with organizations within Amsterdam (such as AMS, City council, local developers, housing associations, the Innovation Lighthouse, Energy suppliers, etc.) and other cities to identify areas of interest for studying the effects of this increasing interdependence. We will do this a) in areas where such a transition has already taken place, b) in areas where such a transition is happening or going to happen, and c) areas where such a transition is not on the table (yet). We will study actual and perceived levels of interdependence, and in case of transitioning areas changes in these variables. This will allow us to get more insight in the development of interdependence, trust and conflict, and their predictive value regarding the success of and satisfaction with a transition to more local energy production and autonomy. We also aim to study different segments of the population (i.e. groups that differ in in their level of motivation to be part of the energy transition) and their perceptions, to try to be able to predict differences in the likelihood that transitions will be successful between groups and possible angles for addressing issues that may occur once less motivated groups are asked to make the transition. Studies will be set up in collaboration with our field partners and progress of the project and results will be shared regularly. Although the study is limited to Amsterdam, we aim to make comparisons to other similar studies in other locations in Europe as well. The project will be supervised by Michel Handgraaf and Eveline van Leeuwen.

We ask

For this project we seek a candidate with a Master’s degree in a field related to Social Psychology, Economic Psychology, Behavioural Economics or Environmental Psychology, and with a keen interest in both fundamental research and the application of behavioural theories to practice. He/she should be familiar with experimental research and/or surveys, and preferably have a background in quantitative research methods. Fluency in English and good communication and organization skills are essential.


Position 2:

Job Title               PHD position: “Back-casting Positive Energy Districts: an ABM approach (ESR15)”
Job Reference   Smart BEEjS - ESR15
Contact                Prof. Dr. Eveline van Leeuwen ([log in to unmask])

We are looking for

The chair group Urban Economics at Wageningen University is looking for a PhD student to carry out a research project on “Back-casting Positive Energy Districts: an ABM approach (ESR15)”:

The objective of the PhD project is to develop (desirable) future scenarios of Energy Positive Districts and to define possible pathways through the use of foresight and back-casting techniques in an agent-based context.

The PhD student will be supervised by Eveline van Leeuwen (WUR and AMS P.I.) and Gert Jan Hofstede (professor at WUR INF). The research will take place in close collaboration with ESR6, but with a strong focus on the desirable future. ESR6, with a secondment at AMS and co-supervised by Gert Jan Hofstede from WUR, will mainly focus on developing a conceptual agent-based model that links the behaviour of households, firms, and public institutions under specific spatial/physical circumstances in order to understand real-life systems dynamics and testing the effects of certain (policy) interventions.

The project will focus on the empirical application of the agent-based model to the Amsterdam case. Therefore, qualitative and quantitative information will be used to develop a spatial explicit agent-based model at the individual residence level. The advantage of an agent-based approach is that individual and household heterogeneity can be taken into account jointly with physical (e.g. building block, infrastructure) and institutional characteristic. A disadvantage can be that the system becomes too complex and cause and effects are non-traceable. Therefore, ESR15 will build upon the conceptual model developed by ESR6 that allows to test well-substantiated hypotheses, as well as well-defined interventions. Another  important input for ESR15 will be the results from the behavioural experiments from ERS3, in particular those that took place in Amsterdam (supervised by Michel Handgraaf and Eveline van Leeuwen, both P.I.s at AMS). After a careful validation and sensitivity process, the ABM can be used to evaluate the impact of  short-term economic and demographic changes, as well as short-term policy instruments.

In order to say more about the potential future scenarios, ESR15 will develop a back-casting approach in the context of Energy Positive districts. Back-casting involves working backwards from a particular desirable future end-point to the present in order to determine the feasibility of that future and the (policy) action required to reach that point. An important step is the development of Images of the Future (the desirable end-points). For this, a thorough literature review, the analysis of successful and less successful EU projects, as well as stakeholder consultation will be used. Next, these images of the future need to be translated into a desired setting/situation of the conceptual and empirical ABM that integrates perceptions, behaviour and decisions of households, policymakers and firms.

Expected Results:

I)          Desirable future images; explicit pathways to reach future scenarios and the identification of potential disruptions; design of different long-term interventions.

II)        An empirical ABM model at the household and individual residence/building level that allows to answer short-term what-if questions and will deliver important insights into the systems dynamics. This ABM can be used in participatory processes and several types of results (systems insights, scenario analyses, participation processes) can be reported in scientific articles.


Part of this project will be used to develop well informed Images of the Future for a set of Amsterdam neighbourhoods selected in collaboration with AMS, the Amsterdam municipality and WUR. These Images will be developed through a participatory process with citizens, policymakers and firms. To derive the pathways to reach these Images, an empirical ABM will be developed for Amsterdam and will be enriched for the neighbourhoods under study.

We ask
For this project we seek a candidate with a Master’s degree in a policy-related discipline and experience in conceptual modelling.???


We offer (for both positions ESR3 and ESR15):

We offer a PhD position for 4 years (with interim evaluation after 18 months). Gross salary will increase from 2083 euro in the first year up to 2664 euro in the last year based on a full-time appointment (38 hours per week). In addition we offer a holiday bonus of 8% and an end-of-the-year bonus of 8.3% of your annual salary.

Note that the two positions at Wageningen University differ from the other positions within the Smart-BEEjS Project in terms of duration (4 years instead of 3) and position type.

Wageningen University & Research centre

Delivering a substantial contribution to the quality of life. That's our focus – each and every day. Within our domain, healthy food and living environment, we search for answers to issues affecting society – such as sustainable food production, climate change and alternative energy. Of course, we don’t do this alone. Every day, 6,500 people work on ‘quality of life’, turning ideas into reality, on a global scale.

Could you be one of these people? We give you the space you need.

Urban Economics

The number of people living in urban environments is increasing rapidly. The mission of the Urban Economics (UEC) group is to contribute to more resilient cities in terms of social equality, economic advantages and environmental quality. Therefore, UEC focusses on two main themes: sustainable consumption and urban-rural interactions. We use insights from general-, urban- and behavioural economics to improve the understanding of consumer and household decision making concerning sustainability, health and well-being and the impacts at the individual, urban and regional level.

For further information about working at Wageningen UR, take a look at   

Please apply via this website:

Closing Date: 30 June 2019

Invitation to interview: 8 July 2019

Interview Date: 23-24 July 2019

Targeted Starting Date: 1 October 2019


Additional information can be obtained from:

Dr. Michel Handgraaf ([log in to unmask]; ESR3) and

Prof. Dr. Eveline van Leeuwen ([log in to unmask]; ESR15) .

Acquisition regarding this vacancy is not appreciated.


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