Dr Lee White

Meet Dr Lee White

29 April 2024
Lee joins SEI as a new theme lead for the Transformative Governance research theme and is also a Sydney Horizon Fellow.
Lee is an interdisciplinary researcher with a background in Energy Management and Public Policy. As a recent recipient of the University of Sydney Horizon Fellowship, Lee aims to develop innovative measures to address energy poverty and its impacts on health and wellbeing.

Lee is driven by a commitment to fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and addressing pressing environmental challenges through innovative research and policy solutions.

Can you tell me about your research background?

My background is interdisciplinary. I began my studies at the University of Otago in New Zealand (my hometown) with a major in Energy Management, where I gained an appreciation for policy problems as well as technical ones. I began examining policy and governance questions of energy transition after initially considering technological aspects of energy use and energy transition at the undergraduate level. This led to my PhD studies at the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy.

After one year as a post-doc at the Ohio State University, where I collaborated with co-authors across disciplines including engineering, economics, and environmental psychology, I joined the Australian National University’s Zero Carbon for the Asia-Pacific Grand Challenge in 2019. I was part of a multidisciplinary cross-campus team examining Australia’s role in regional transition to zero carbon energy. 

My research today considers questions such as who is left out of energy transition, and how changes to regulation and governance could work to level the playing field instead of tilting it further.

Can you tell me a bit about your new Horizon Fellowship?

The University of Sydney Horizon Fellowship is an exciting chance to tackle complex problems of climate change, health, and sustainability in an internationally recognised university. In my Horizon role, I will develop a new measure that captures energy poverty in a holistic sense, in terms of peoples’ ability to live a life that they value, to make visible who is underserved by current energy systems and governance.

Energy and the services it provides are important for health, and will only become more important in the context of a warming climate. This would allow us to more fully understand how energy transition policies are changing experiences of energy poverty. It will also allow us to understand experiences of energy poverty in a changing climate.

Can you share any upcoming projects or initiatives that you'll be contributing to in the near future?

I use a range of methodological approaches, both qualitative (interviews, document reviews) and quantitative (regression analysis, panel data), to understand emergence and impacts of climate and energy policies.

Alongside my Horizon work, I will be building on a recent collaborative project that mapped regulatory disparities in electricity protection across Australia. This could include examining how energy poverty experiences correlate with lower levels of consumer protections.

There are also intersections between this work and the critical minerals investigations led by Prof Susan Park, which we will explore. I anticipate that many additional collaborative opportunities will arise across SEI in the near future.

What do you see as the biggest challenges or opportunities in the transformative governance space?

When we reform systems such as for energy transition, these systems also need to transform. Systems have often evolved in complex ways over time responding to immediate problems, incentive structures, and political needs.

It is rare to have opportunities to comprehensively transform governance systems, meaning that transformations for new systems will still build on these existing legacy systems with all of their complexity. In spaces such as energy transition and climate change mitigation, determining the right mechanisms to centre and entrench transformation goals through often extended implementation processes represents both an opportunity and a challenge.

What attracted you to the work of SEI, and what are you most excited about in your new position?

SEI is a collaborative environment where people with diverse perspectives come together to ask pressing questions of complex environmental challenges. This is an attractive and exciting research environment to tackle issues of energy transition and climate change mitigation in a transformative manner.  

I’m also looking forward to engaging with the Sydney Environment Institute and the Sydney Policy Lab, and with many other groups on campus working on issues of environment, policy, and health issues related to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

As a theme lead, what specific goals or initiatives do you hope to achieve within your area of expertise?

My primary objectives revolve around fostering collaboration and engagement across various research themes within SEI, with a particular emphasis on exploring justice aspects inherent in transitioning systems.

I aim to facilitate deeper engagement with energy transition across disciplines, focusing on elucidating the impacts of policy on the health and wellbeing of diverse sociodemographic groups, while also examining the pivotal role of governance in this context.

Additionally, I seek to enhance our understanding of the intricate dynamics of energy systems within system transformation efforts, with a specific focus on ensuring the provision of essential services that communities rely on from these energy systems.

View Dr Lee White's academic profile here.

Theme lead

Lee White

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