Sara Hamza

  • Sara Hamza is originally from Egypt. She joined Oxford Brookes in December 2015 and completed her studies in April 2020. Her thesis title is ‘Guiding the Renewable Energy Transition in Developing Countries; Towards an Integrated Model of Providing Renewable Energy in Low Income Housing in Egypt’

    How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

    I came across Oxford Brookes when I was looking for a PhD programme in Spatial Planning in the UK through findaphd.com. One thing that really influenced my decision was its reputation as one of the top Built Environment schools in the UK which offers an attractive PhD programme in Spatial Planning with interesting options for specialisations.

    What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

    What attracted me to Oxford Brookes was the high reputation, as Brookes looked to have a good and diverse research environment. I began to research the University and found that there were positive online reviews from students. Also, I received a welcoming response when I emailed to find out about my research.

    What were you doing before?

    I was combining professional practice with teaching BA in Urban Planning and Design at Faculty of Engineering, Ain Shams University in Egypt. I completed a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Architectural Engineering in 2014, after which I worked as an assistant lecturer for several years at the Urban Planning and Design Department, Faculty of Engineering, Ain Shams University in Egypt. Also, I worked as a senior architect for several years at different architectural consulting firms in Egypt.

    How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

    I found it easy to settle into the research environment because it is a culturally diverse environment. It was initially challenging to understand Brookes’ system and find a direction for my research; however, the great support from both supervisors and the wider department made it easy to integrate into the research environment. Also, the induction session and the extra courses provided by the Graduate College gave me an overall idea of what a PhD student should do. One thing that helped me to integrate easily into the research environment was attending the doctoral training and lunch-time research seminars organised by Dr Sue Brownill every Wednesday. The lunchtime seminars are very well structured and represent a way for knowledge flourishing and transferring experiences between new PhD students and other, former students.

    Tell us about your research.

    My research is concerned with investigating whether and how empowering urban low-income communities, through community renewable energy (RE) initiatives, can be a way to achieve a just RE transition that would address energy poverty in developing countries. Previous research has explored different ways of integrating RE into low-income housing to address energy poverty; however, the focus has largely been on developed countries and rural areas in developing countries. Less attention has been paid to residents of urban subsidised low-income housing (SLH) projects in the context of the developing world. This study addresses this gap by investigating the barriers and opportunities for achieving a just RE transition to address energy poverty in urban low-income housing in developing countries, by taking Egypt as a case study.

    Egypt provides a good context for exploring issues of a just RE transition led by the community in urban low-income housing in a developing context. Unlike other African countries, Egypt has reached 100% electrification; therefore, it has the advantage of being able to exploit all its RE potential through connecting new on-grid RE capacity, especially solar energy projects. The country has also recently introduced ambitious RE targets to increase RE capacity all over the country. Moreover, Egypt has recently witnessed an increase in solar PV capacity which has more than tripled since 2013 due to the introduction of multiple policies to grow solar capacity.

    Nevertheless, Egypt's national electricity mix is still heavily dependent on fossil fuel with a low share of RE, especially solar PV systems which still have not spread more widely across the society. While a number of RE projects have been implemented to address rural electrification issues instead of extending the national grid, the extent to which energy poverty in urban low-income households has been considered is limited. However, Egypt, like much of the developing world, suffers from high population and urbanisation growth rates (2.03%) with 43 % of the population living in cities, most of whom (56%) live in the two largest cities which are Greater Cairo Region and Alexandria. Furthermore, urban low-income households are the most vulnerable to energy poverty and injustice, especially since the government’s recent removal of energy subsidies.

    Therefore, this study will contribute to the debate on the RE transitions in urban low-income housing in developing countries by taking Egypt as a case study. The study builds on conceptualisations of (socio-technical) transition pathways of new innovations emerging in a niche space to develop a framework that explores the potential for the development of a community RE niche in developing countries. The study also contributes by giving a voice to unrepresented communities, allowing them to recommend measures needed to encourage their empowerment in the energy dialogue and to choose the model of community RE initiative that can promote a just RE transition in this context. To do this, the study focuses on residents of new large-scale urban subsidised low-income housing projects that represent a key location for millions of urban low-income families and represent a good test of a just transition in Egypt. The data was collected using a mixed-methods design, including documentary research, household surveys, semi-structured interviews with national stakeholders and workshops within three case studies of new urban subsidised low-income housing projects.

    What did you enjoy about being a research student?

    I enjoyed the exposure to a very diverse research environment, and the opportunity to engage with teaching urban design in the department. I also enjoyed attending the Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (LTHE) Course, which gives students the opportunity to obtain Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, as well as a variety of other courses, workshops, seminars, talks and sessions where interesting topics were discussed. There was also an opportunity to attend different courses such as SPSS, NVivo, research philosophy and research methods, all of which boosted my confidence as a researcher.

    Being a research student can be extremely challenging, as we all experience the challenge of time constraints to meet deadlines. However, my supervisors were very willing to guide me and help me find my direction and meet my deadlines. One of the main challenges facing most researchers is the need to apply for funding to attend conferences and publish their work. In my case, I received funding from Oxford Brookes to present a paper at the World Forum on Climate Justice, organised by Elsevier and the Centre for Climate Justice in Caledonian University, Glasgow.

    What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

    Oxford Brookes offers a rich research training programme that provides students with the skills needed to be independent researchers, and which helps them prepare for a career in academia. I found that training courses, from both the Graduate College and within my department, enriched my knowledge and boosted my confidence as a researcher. I also received incredible support from my supervisor, Dr Sue Brownill, who helped me acquire new and immense knowledge about critical thinking, research philosophy and research methods.

    What are your future plans?

    At the moment, I am unsure of my future plans, but I feel that I have lots of options open to me. I would like to go back into teaching, continue doing research on related topics, and participate in research projects.