Published 30 July 2018
We are excited to welcome PhD Candidate Jan Kucic-Riker to the Sydney Environment Institute team. Jan’s research sits under our Transition research area and will examine the role of community-owned renewable energy in Australia’s low-carbon transition. His work considers the relations that govern the ownership and use of renewable energy as well as the tensions that exist between competing understandings of community energy. Find out more about Jan and his research below.
What are the key environmental issues your research aims to address?
Because my research focuses on Australia’s energy industry—which relies heavily on fossil fuels—carbon emissions and climate change are key themes in my work. While shuttering Australia’s aging coal plants and replacing them with renewable energy and storage would go a long way towards addressing these issues, questions on matters of ownership, governance, and equity are less straightforward. Even the basic issue of defining “electricity” is not without its challenges. For example, an understanding of electricity as a commodity comes with implicit assumptions about its supply, distribution, and pricing that differ significantly from understandings of electricity as a public good or human right.
The movement for community energy provides an interesting perspective from which to think through these questions because it recognizes that replacing our fossil fuel infrastructure with solar panels and wind turbines while maintaining existing consumption patterns will fail to meet emissions reduction targets—to say nothing of other environmental objectives. When it comes to climate change the issue is not just the type of energy we use, but how we use it. If our prevailing economic model demands that we continue to raze more forests, expand industrial agriculture, and fill more landfills whether we do so with clean energy or fossil fuels is beside the point.
What led you to your research topic?
My Master’s research centered on efforts to challenge the predominance of growth-oriented development and neoliberal orthodoxy so community energy with its emphasis on grassroots engagement and alternative economics comes as a natural extension to that work. My colleagues Jane Lê and Chris Wright with whom I’ve studied the issue of energy security in Australia over the last year and who have helped shape my understanding of what can be a trying political arena at the best of times also share some responsibility for my present research orientation. Their work provided an invaluable opportunity to familiarize myself with Australia’s energy market, the policies regulating it, and the actors and institutions that direct its development.
Apart from research, what are your passions & interests?
I am a notorious homebody. I like to spend my time amongst books with the company of my cat Momo. I am also an amateur baker of bread (though a professional eater of it) and pass many evenings in the kitchen tinkering with tacos, fantasizing about ferments, or gorging on gruyere.
As a recent Canadian transplant to Australia, I am still in my honeymoon phase with the beach. I love to swim and when I can’t make it out to Maroubra or Coogee you’ll find me in the Sydney Uni pool.