Dominique McCollum Coy

EMPOWERING COMMUNITIES TO JOIN THE ENERGY TRANSITION

Interests: energy technology, community, empowerment, sustainability transitions, behaviour, climate change

Dominique McCollum Coy is a 1st year PhD candidate with BehaviourWorks Australia at Monash Sustainable Development Institute. Her research focuses on behaviour change in energy transition, or in other words how tomove away from fossil fuel. “I’m fortunate that I started my PhD at the same time as 17 other PhD candidates, passionate about working towards a more sustainable society. What I like the most about my role at Monash is that the program I am in addresses real-world sustainability challenges through academic research. I hope that my research will have tangible implications and will help people working for the energy transition, whether they are government, community groups, activists or researchers”.

A typical day in Dominique’s PhD journey is a mix of media scanning, info gathering and meetings. “I like to start my day by reading the news. The energy space in Australia can be politically charged, so it is important to stay on top of what’s going on. Australia has a significant opportunity to become global leader in the energy transition due to its abundant renewable resources. I also have meetings with my industry partner (the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning) to talk about my research and to get feedback from policy practitioners and project implementation teams”.

Dominique holds a BSc (Hons I) in Psychology and Neuroscience from the Australian National University, and a Masters of Environment from Griffith University. “I’ve always been passionate about the environment and reducing injustice, which is why I decided not to stay in pure psychology and neuroscience and broaden my knowledge to sustainability. I’ve always enjoyed subjects where we can understand why people do things, whether it be through neuroscience or economics. I believe that behaviour and decision-making is at the core of many of society’s grand problems as well as the solutions to these problems”.

Dominique pursues her passion in energy transition through academia and local environmental activism. “Energy transition is an interesting space because it has direct implications for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I decided to pursue academia as I found activism a bit dis-empowering. The most important thing I learnt from activism is that even if people don’t believe in climate change, they still get excited about new energy technologies, and this is potentially a backdoor way to change behaviours, so we can address climate change and build a more sustainable society”.

She is interested in community responses to promote sustainability. “In my master’s research, I explored tools to assess ‘pro-environmental behaviours. Some people are motivated to act to prevent climate change following economic arguments, others environmental ones, or values related to a specific place that will be affected by climate change... there is no one reason why people become involved in direct energy decisions where they purchase and install new energy devices. It is important to understand why some people are engaging with energy in new ways, then encourage the rest of the population to do the same”.

For her PhD, Dominique investigates community and household level adoption of renewable energy technology; focusing on home solar panels and battery packs and the orchestration of these technologies in a mini-gird. “Often the energy transition is framed as the democratisation of energy, allowing people who have been locked out from decision making to innovate in the transition. I will explore how we can use this sense of empowerment to get more communities and households to adopt renewable energy technologies. I define empowerment as “expansion in one’s ability to make strategic life choices, where this ability was previously denied”. So, empowerment isn’t just about affordability, it is also about ensuring that the community has information, confidence and support to engage with these technologies. Some potential interventions I am thinking about include citizen advisory councils for renewable energy decision making, changing state and private sector attitudes to community engagement in renewable energy or equipping communities with the resources to engage with energy tech".

For Dominique, working towards a systematic plan is extremely important for phasing out old technologies and managing new ones. “Victoria is doing amazing work to promote the installation of new technologies. Energy is an essential service that we rely on to live and participate in society every day. Everyone should be able to make choices about where they want to get their energy from, not just because it is interesting (for the energy nerds) but also because it is through new technologies that we are going to address climate change and that is something everyone should be participating in. I’m a renter so my choices are somewhat limited. However, I ensure that my electricity and gas are carbon offset, purchased from a provider that invests in renewable energy and try to insulate my home. Additionally, I’ve cut down my red meat consumption, made sure my car had the best environmental rating I could afford and converse with people about climate change in a non-judgmental way.