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Engaging communities in the transition to low-carbon economy

Engaging communities in the transition to low-carbon economy

Smart Prosperity Institute | For a stronger, cleaner economy

How citizens and communities participate in energy initiatives is critical to the successful transition to a low-carbon economy. Meaningful participation in renewable and low-carbon energy initiatives is linked with enhanced citizen support. Community energy -- characterized by high levels of participation --  is also associated with wide ranging benefits for communities such as new social mechanisms for learning, economic development, and engagement of local populations in energy policy implementation.  

This is the core of Professor Christina Hoicka’s research and teaching. They are geared towards developing a better understanding of how communities and energy users (citizens, households, organizations, businesses) participate in low carbon and renewable energy transitions. Her recent publications focus on the socio-political foundations of Green New Deal for Canada (see presentation); an action plan to accelerate deep energy retrofits for buildings across Canada for 2030; policy advice and analysis to the European Union on the implementation of “renewable energy clusters” under the new Renewable Energy Communities legislation; Canada’s first assessments of community energy; and whether local energy planning practices support citizen participation. 

Her current research project Diffusion of Multiple Demand-Side Low-Carbon Innovations in a 1.5C Energy Transition funded by SSHRC, the Faculty of Environmental Studies, and the Smart Prosperity Institute, is one of the first projects to examine the diffusion of multiple low-carbon innovations to communities. The research makes important theoretical and methodological contributions to better understand how to break carbon lock-in and engage communities to accelerate climate action and mitigate catastrophic climate disruption. She is publishing research about whether renewable and community energy can support reconciliation. 

Professor Hoicka created the Social Exergy & Energy Lab, based at the Robarts Centre at York University, that is focused on studying the future of carbon energy and identifying strategies towards mitigating the effects of climate change. “In the lab, I mentor graduate students and emerging scholars to conduct empirical research about problems specific to how communities engage in a low-carbon energy transition to maintain average global temperature rise to 1.5°C. On one side, I combine my engineering and geography training to study and work with technology innovation researchers to follow trends, facilitate, characterize, and analyze the research and development, demonstration and diffusion of low-carbon innovations, with particular attention to demand-side” she elaborates. “I work with social scientists and use interdisciplinary analysis to better characterize and understand how governance and low-carbon innovations combine and embed into communities, and how options affect social acceptance, or potentially exacerbate or improve inequalities and participation in a renewable energy transition,” she adds. 

Notably, she is also the co-founder and inaugural Chair of Women and Inclusivity in Sustainable Energy Research (WISER) Network, a global network that seeks to connect and promote women and non-binary people researching clean energy. The network is the 125th Signatory of the global Equal by 30 campaign that promotes Sustainable Development Goals 5, gender equality, and 7, clean and affordable energy. 

Christina Hoicka is Associate Professor in Sustainable Energy Economics at the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change and Senior Faculty Associate at the Robarts' Centre for Canadian Studies. She has degrees in engineering, environmental studies, and geography and is a leading global expert in the diffusion of renewable energy and low-carbon innovations in communities.