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Exploring democracy and justice within low-carbon energy initiatives

Exploring democracy and justice within low-carbon energy initiatives

Susan Morrissey Wyse began her PhD in 2019 with the Faculty of Environmental Studies (now Environmental and Urban Change). The focus of her PhD dissertation is on the social impacts of low-carbon energy initiatives. The aim of her research is to investigate the intersection of democracy and justice within low carbon and renewable energy transitions. The study will look at the active role of individuals and communities through the lenses of several emerging frameworks that emphasizes the processes and/or outcomes of energy, that is, how people participate and how they are impacted. These frameworks include, but are not limited to, energy justice, energy democracy and energy citizenship.

“My research involves a strong conceptual and methodological foundation. Conceptually, my research follows a recognition that key issues pertaining to democracy and justice have been discussed extensively and in multiple ways throughout the history of social and political thought. As such, with the assistance of my PhD committee, I am conducting a targeted and scoped review of relevant historical and contemporary works,” Wyse explains. “Methodologically, I am pursuing a mixed-methods research specialization in order to investigate relevant energy concerns through rigorous empirical methods. This semester, I am diving into basic statistics and modelling in order to better analyze data,” she adds.

The research will be conducted under the supervision of Dr. Christina Hoicka, an expert in low-carbon energy transitions, community participation, and both qualitative and quantitative research methods. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of this research, which the structure of the Faculty facilitates, Wyse will also benefit from an interdisciplinary PhD committee. With the assistance of Dr. Idil Boran, an expert in philosophy, public policy, the history of political theory, and social political thought in practice, she will have strong support for this project’s conceptual components. Additionally, Dr. Runa Das, Canada’s leading expert on energy literacy, a leading expert on energy poverty and a quantitative methodologist, will provide strong support both conceptually and methodologically.

Wyse is currently leading a research project with support from Dr. Runa Das, Yuxu Zhao, Marie-Louise McMaster, Dr. Christina Hoicka, and Dr. Jenny Lieu. The research uses survey data collected by Hoicka and students from the Social Exergy and Energy Lab, involving 124 low-carbon innovations intended for energy users in Ontario, Canada. The project employs an energy justice framework to evaluate the innovation sphere on the basis of energy justice criteria. The research contributes to literature by demonstrating how an energy justice framework can be applied. The aim is to provide critical insight for researchers and policymakers to evaluate the relationship between innovations and justice, thereby enabling a more fair and equitable energy transition. The abstract for this research has been conditionally accepted, and a peer reviewed publication is expected in the coming months.

Susan Morrissey-Wyse received her BA (honours) with a double major in Political Science and Communication Studies from Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. She is a graduate of the MES program at York University, where she researched the relationship between community energy and local energy plans, and a recipient of SSHRC's Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship both at the master's and doctoral levels. Community energy is argued to be an opportunity to transition to low-carbon energy systems while creating additional benefits for local communities. It is defined as energy initiatives that place a high degree of emphasis on participation of local community members through ownership and control, where through doing so, benefits are created for the community. The trend has seen considerable growth in many countries over the last decade. Occurring simultaneously is a trend for local communities to create their own Local Energy Plans (LEPs), a planning process that articulates energy-related actions. Her major paper, ‘By and For Local People’: Assessing the Connection between Local Energy Plans and Community Energy”, was nominated as one of the Faculty’s outstanding papers which she co-presented with supervisor Christina Hoicka at the Network of Early Career Researchers in Sustainability Transitions (NEST) conference in Lisbon, Portugal in 2019 and co-published subsequently in the Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability.