Published 07 April 2021
Could you tell us about your Honours project?
The climate justice movement has fuelled conversations about ‘energy citizenship’ and the need for people to evolve from being merely passive consumers of energy to active energy stakeholders, concerned with responsibilities relating to climate change, justice and equity. Increasingly, energy citizens are being encouraged to enact their civic responsibilities through individualistic acts of consumption, for example, through purchasing solar panels. This neoliberal, individualistic approach to ‘energy citizenship’ has barred almost a third of the Australian population, including apartment occupants, renters and low-income households, from accessing the benefits of distributed solar generation.
Community projects are being heralded as possible solutions to this energy justice crisis. Community initiatives include grassroots organisational campaigns, such as the ‘solar for all’ movement, and community energy projects including solar gardens, solar farms and solar trading. Through exploring the processes and mechanisms which are metabolised to produce these heterogeneous citizenship arenas, I wish to assess the role that these community-based modes of energy citizenship can play in facilitating a more just and inclusive energy transition.
What was the inspiration that led you to this line of research?
I distinctly remember sitting in one of my undergraduate classes where we were critiquing the role that distributed solar generation can play in facilitating the decarbonisation of Australia’s energy system. Whilst I was fascinated by the content, I could not help but feel like an outlander. I could see my peers around me actively contributing to the class debate, masterfully wielding the energy metalanguage … but I sat in silence, feeling as though I had nothing to contribute. The disconnect that I felt arose partially from the fact that as a resident in a Western Sydney apartment complex, I had never entertained the possibility of installing solar panels. I internalised the idea that the solar revolution was an ‘elitist’ movement that was beyond my reach.
“As a resident in a Western Sydney apartment complex, I had never entertained the possibility of installing solar panels. I internalised the idea that the solar revolution was an ‘elitist’ movement that was beyond my reach.”
I later found out about other community members who, like me, were also locked out of solar yet still acting as social and political agents in the energy system. Some of these community members had joined Voices for Power, an organisational, migrant-led campaign which seeks to unlock affordable, clean energy for all. Other community members were expressing interest in joining the Haystacks solar garden project, which is on track to become Australia’s first large-scale solar garden. I began to recognise the power of community action in fuelling a more just and inclusive energy transition.
Nonetheless, community has become an abstract ‘buzzword’. We recognise its potential, but there has been limited critical analysis on the role that community-based modes of citizenship can actually play in unlocking solar for all, particularly in an Australian context. I wish to address this gap.
Why is this topic so important, and what do you ultimately hope your findings will contribute to society and its future?
We are currently trapped in an era marked by crisis. Whilst the Covid-19 crisis has taken centre stage, it is merely one of several crises which are plaguing the nation. Let us not forget that we are also entrenched in a climate, ecological, social justice and economic crisis. Our survival hinges on us taking just and holistic actions now. We must not only decarbonise our energy system, we must also achieve a triple bottom line. Indeed, renewable energy projects need to improve access to clean energy, ameliorate the struggles of the energy poor and contribute to local development. My project is important because it will help unpack the role that community-based modes of energy citizenship can play in achieving this win-win-win scenario. As such, the findings can provide useful insight that can help shape the formation of future community-based citizenship arenas.
“Renewable energy projects need to improve access to clean energy, ameliorate the struggles of the energy poor and contribute to local development. My project is important because it will help unpack the role that community-based modes of energy citizenship can play in achieving this win-win-win scenario. “
Energy citizenship is an intriguing framework through which we can deconstruct community projects. In particular, whilst community projects have connotations of inclusivity, collaboration and solidarity, citizenship is an inherently exclusionary practice. Applying a citizenship framework will thus help foreground the patterns of inclusion, exclusion and privilege that are being metabolised to engender these heterogeneous participatory collectives. In this way, I hope to illustrate that there is no single normative blueprint to solving all of our crises. Multiple crises demand multiple solutions and multivalent forms of participation.
“Whilst community projects have connotations of inclusivity, collaboration and solidarity, citizenship is an inherently exclusionary practice. Applying a citizenship framework will thus help foreground the patterns of inclusion, exclusion and privilege that are being metabolised to engender these heterogeneous participatory collectives.”
What about the Sydney Environment Institute made you interested in completing an Honours Fellowship with us?
I subscribed to the SEI newsletter during my first undergraduate year. Since then, I have read several SEI articles and I have always been impressed by the intellectual rigour and eloquence of the SEI academics. I knew that I wanted to approach my Honours project with the same level of sophistication and insight. In particular, I want to push the boundaries, fill the gaps, foreground the marginalised and critique the injustices. SEI will provide the network and support I need to achieve all of these goals. Truthfully, it almost seems surreal that I will now get to engage with the very academics whose work I have admired for years.
Further, as a law and science student, I am well aware of the importance of not siloing oneself into a specific discipline or subscribing to a particular epistemology. As such, I have always been drawn towards SEI’s ethos of providing a transdisciplinary research environment. Through immersing myself in this environment, I hope that I can identify gaps in my knowledge and undertake a more nuanced, creative and critical approach to my research. I am incredibly excited and grateful to be a part of the SEI community, and I look forward to participating in the SEI events and interacting with the SEI members.
Judita Hudson holds a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Environmental Studies, and is currently undertaking her Honours with the School of Geosciences. After completing her Honours, Judita will resume her Bachelor of Laws at the University of Sydney. Judita’s research interests include deconstructing environmental injustices and patterns of uneven development. These interests have shaped her thesis which will explore the role that community energy projects can play in addressing energy poverty in NSW.