Spotlight on a Student: Paris Hadfield

Financialisation and scaling towards 'just' urban sustainability transitions - the possibilities and limits of renewable energy innovations in cities

What is your research about?

Recognising the mobilisation of cities around climate and energy policy, my research aims to understand whether and how cities can achieve meaningful change towards decarbonising the energy system. The research focuses on innovative financial mechanisms for renewable energy development in cities across civil, public, and private sectors. This responds in part to urban stakeholders’ practical concerns about how to fund projects, while the role of finance represents a key gap in sustainability transitions theory. I am also interested in the social implications of these developments – the distribution of costs, benefits, and burdens – and hope to better understand the possibilities and limits of a ‘just’ transition to sustainability.

So, how do novel financial mechanisms contribute to just and transformative shifts to renewable energy systems in cities? To answer this overarching research question, I am undertaking a qualitative analysis of three local financial innovations across different urban contexts: i) low-income solar rates finance (Melbourne and Adelaide, Australia), ii) multi-stakeholder renewables group purchasing (Melbourne, Australia), and iii) crowd-funded community energy (Bristol, UK and Helsingborg, Sweden). Through in-depth interviews with key stakeholders across sectors, the research teases out the financial relations underpinning these innovative renewable energy projects. In this way, it aims to explain how finance shapes or constrains the emergence and scaling up of these niche initiatives – over time, across space, and at different scales.

This research is significant for understanding how population segments or types of consumers, built forms, and urban spaces are enrolled or excluded in low carbon energy transitions. It also demonstrates the role of local government as an end-user, leader, financier, and mediator in renewable energy development. Lastly, in the context of persistent inequalities in cities, an understanding of the social equity implications of renewable energy development is critical if we are to advance a truly transformative sustainability paradigm.

Who are your supervisors?

My principle supervisor is Professor Lars Coenen, the inaugural City of Melbourne Chair of Resilient Cities based at the University of Melbourne, and part of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI). As an interdisciplinary scholar, Lars's role involves strengthening Melbourne's position as a leader in knowledge-based urban resilience through collaborative research and innovation. My co-supervisor in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, Professor Chris Ryan, has over 40 years’ experience in environmental policy and design across the community sector, academia, government, international agencies and business.

What do you want to do next?

I have just under one year remaining before I submit my PhD thesis, and no doubt the energy (policy) landscape will evolve in that time. Nonetheless, I hope to continue my research into the potential for new configurations of consumers, renewable energy infrastructure, and the built environment to redistribute local and community benefits in cities and regions. I also hope to participate more actively in innovative sustainability policy and project development.

Paris and her supervisors warmly welcome any enquiries about her research. You can email her at, Prof. Lars Coenen at, and Prof. Chris Ryan at

Funding & internships

This research is funded by the CRC for Low Carbon Living Node of Excellence: Low carbon resilient future cities scholarship. Paris received a travel grant from the EU Centre on Shared Complex Challenges at the University of Melbourne in 2017 for fieldwork in the UK and Sweden. She will soon complete a research internship at the Resilient Melbourne Delivery Office investigating the potential for local government renewables group purchasing in Melbourne.

More Information

Ruby Brown

+61 3 9035 3641

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