Thesis Title: Building Community Resilience: The Role for Community Energy Projects in Sustainable Place Making
Primary Supervisor: Dr Richard Cowell
Secondary Supervisor: Dr Alex Franklin
Tertiary Supervisor: Dr Leanne Cullen Unsworth
Reviewer: Professor Terry Marsden
Starting Date: October 2013
Completion Date: September 2016
Funding Source: ESRC, Welsh Government, Cardiff University
Career Experience and Qualifications
Alister joined CPLAN in October 2013 as part of his PhD research project in conjunction with the Sustainable Places Research Institute entitled 'Building Community Resilience: The Role for Community Energy Projects in Sustainable Place Making'. He previously completed the MSc Global Security (Social and Cultural Perspectives), graduating with Distinction from the University of Glasgow (2012) and holds a BA (Hons) Business Law and Politics from the University of Stirling (2004).
Prior to coming to Cardiff, Alister conducted research on Scottish climate change policy and Scotland’s role as an environmental actor in the broader context of environmental security; with a specific interest in local and community solutions to climate change manifest through the land reform movement in Scotland.
- Environmental Security
- Climate Change
- Community and Solidarity
- Land Reform
Alister’s current research project is an ESRC and Welsh Government funded collaboration. It aims to examine the different ways that community energy projects in urban areas shape new pathways and trajectories for living more sustainably whilst envisaging more just and equitable social and ecological relations. Energy use, demand, supply and consumption are a set of deeply entrenched processes and repertoires; complicit in the constitution and reproduction of modern social, political and economic arrangements and practices and concurrent insecurities at multiple scales. Energy choices, and the transitions that renewable technologies and distributed energy systems characteristic of the rhetoric of community energy imply, beckon distinct alternative imaginaries about the future. The present study will have a particular emphasis on the impact that engagement with such initiatives has in the alleviation of fuel poverty; although will also inform knowledge of how such initiatives augment wider processes of resilience building. This will enhance understanding of how such processes can both contribute towards the (re)negotiation of multiple dimensions of security in daily life and, through a community resilience framework, envisage more equitable, sustainable and secure futures.
Contribute to theory and understanding of the interrelationship between fuel poverty, community energy initiatives and energy justice, through the exploration of specific community case studies and energy projects in Wales; and examine whether a co-research approach between multiple stakeholders can yield more innovative solutions to the problem of fuel poverty.
Whilst paying attention to a number of specific questions, it is envisaged that the study will engage with and contribute towards emerging debates on energy justice in the academic literature (Walker and Day, 2012; Bickerstaff et al, 2013; Miller et al, 2013; Hall et al, 2013; Sovacool et al, 2014). Following Bijker and Law (1992), a broadly socio-technical standpoint will be adopted; recognising that the social and the technical are intricately intertwined and that the particular form of a given technical constellation is a response to wider social contingencies. Of particular interest will be how and on what basis the circumstances of fuel poverty are factored into the (re)configuration of systems of energy provision, the extent to which an energy justice approach is embedded in such processes, and the implications of such an undertaking for transition pathways to a just and sustainable low carbon future (Grin, Rotmans and Schot, 2010; Verbong and Loorbach, 2012; Hodson and Marvin, 2013).
The following specific questions will guide the research:
- To what extent can community energy initiatives contribute towards the alleviation of fuel poverty?
- What conditions (e.g. social, political, technical and economic) support the impact of community energy initiatives for addressing fuel poverty?
- Are there opportunities manifest through engagement with community energy initiatives for wider processes of building community resilience and transitions towards a more socially and ecologically just low carbon future?
- In what ways can co-research between actors and stakeholders across multiple scales contribute towards the aims associated with a just and sustainable low carbon future?
The study has a specific emphasis on the experience of communities in Wales; albeit with a view to having wider relevance through the contemporary nature of the issues under question and through the contribution of the study to the emerging theoretical tradition of energy justice. The study will adopt a primarily action research oriented approach towards examining the issues and questions; thereby exploring the utility of an innovative and novel set of methodology for engaging with specific communities to examine, support and identify local responses to fuel poverty. Given that a substantial proportion of existing community energy initiatives come to fruition as a result of the mobilisation of empowered communities acting on the combination of a favourable set of conditions in particular communities and locales (Cowell, forthcoming; Middlemiss and Parrish, 2010; Bomberg and McEwan, 2012; Catney et al, 2013), the present study will seek to engage more directly with disadvantaged communities in urban areas to identify pathways to a more ‘balanced’ form of energy transition (Catney et al, 2013). From the standpoint that community energy initiatives are an articulation of a form of praxis – that is ‘reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it’ (Freire, 1996: 33) – the study shall seek to examine the differential ways in which communities seek to manage fuel poverty and wider insecurities through community energy. In doing so, the study will both seek to explain the extent to which such processes contribute towards building resilience in the communities under examination and establish how such processes shape and/or foreclose particular pathways in terms of envisaging transition in the energy system at large.
- Examine the role and significance of community energy initiatives and bottom-up approaches as they relate to the (re)negotiation of security at multiple scales both in Wales and beyond.
- Inform perspectives on the differential ways in which engagement with community energy initiatives can contribute towards the alleviation of fuel poverty whilst examining how such practices augment wider processes of resilience building.
- Explore the role of different actors across a range of scales and the relevant contexts towards fostering the (re)production of community energy initiatives, with a view to identifying opportunities for more effective support at a policy level.
- Contribute towards knowledge in the emerging field of energy justice as it relates to the production of more sustainable social and ecological relations through the praxis of community energy initiatives.
- Apply and test the value of an action research approach for shaping greater critical engagement with the possibility of community-led initiatives and community energy projects in specific settings through working with specific projects.
Bickerstaff, K., Walker, G. and Bulkeley, H. (eds) (2013) Energy Justice in a Changing Climate: Social Equity and Low-Carbon Energy London: Zed Books
Bijker, W. E., and Law, J. (eds) (1992) Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
Bomberg, E. and McEwan, N. (2012) 'Mobilizing Community Energy' In: Energy Policy 51 pp. 435 – 444
Catney, P., MacGregor, S., Dobson, A., Hall, S. M., Royston, S., Robinson, Z., Ormerod, M. and Ross, S. (2013) 'Big Society, Little Justice? Community Renewable Energy and the Politics of Localism' In: Local Environment [Online Article] Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13549839.2013.792044 [Accessed 03 December 2013]
Cowell, R. (Forthcoming) 'Localism' and the Environment: Effective Re-scaling for Sustainability Transition?
Freire, P. (1996) Pedagogy of the Oppressed London: Penguin
Grin, J., Rotmans, J. and Schot, J. (eds) (2010) Transitions to Sustainable Development: New Directions in the Study of Long Term Transformative Change London: Routledge
Hall, S. M., Hards, S. and Bulkeley, H. (2013) 'New Approaches to Energy: Equity, Justice and Vulnerability' In: Local Environment 18(4) pp. 413 – 421
Hodson, M. and Marvin, S. (2013) Low Carbon Nation? London: Routledge
Middlemiss, L. and Parrish, B. D. (2010) 'Building Capacity for Low-Carbon Communities: The Role of Grassroots Initiatives' In: Energy Policy 38 pp. 7559 – 7566
Miller, C. A., Iles, A. and Jones, C. F. (2013) 'The Social Dimensions of Energy Transitions' In: Science as Culture 22(2) pp. 135 – 148
Sovacool, B. K., Sidortsov, R. V. and Jones, B. R. (2014) Energy Security, Equality, and Justice London: Routledge
Verbong, G. and Loorbach, D. (eds) (2012) Governing the Energy Transition: Reality, Illusion or Necessity? London: Routledge
Walker, G. and Day, R. (2012) 'Fuel Poverty as Injustice: Integrating Distribution, Recognition and Procedure in the Struggle for Affordable Warmth' In: Energy Policy 49 pp. 69 – 75