New Challenges of Sustainable Energy Transformations? Ambiguity, Contingency, and Politics

Recently, social science literature is particularly concerned with implementation processes of sustainable energy transformations. The crucial question is how to analyze these complex processes adequately in order to provide answers on urgent questions like successful governance of energy transformation processes [1–4], appropriate policies and political conditions [5,6], or how long the transformation process will take [7], or how much it will cost [8]. These scientific disputes reveal the need to consider carefully socio-institutional processes in which sustainable energy transformations are embedded. In an age of populism, post-truth politics, and contestation the social-institutional environment is in turbulence. At the same time, countries all over the world but especially those from the Global South are facing climate change deteriorating living and production conditions and bringing about economic damage. We call for Panels and Papers analyzing challenges of sustainable energy transformations as well as the impact of these challenges on sustainable energy transformation processes. The overarching aim of the Section is for all Panels to draw together conceptual expertise and rigorous empirical analysis in order to explore if and how changes of the socio-institutional environment affect sustainable energy transformation processes or if and why these processes are resilient.

The following colleagues have expressed their interest in organizing a Panel within this Section:

“Climate and energy policy revisions in Europe”
(Chairs: Merethe Dotterud Leiren, CICERO Center for International Climate Research, Oslo, Norway/ Elin Lerum Boasson, University of Oslo, Norway)
Extensive revisions of EU climate and energy policy is going on. To what extent has the Paris agreement influenced such EU revisions? What are the effects on the development of national renewable energy policies embedded in a European order? How does policy development at the global and European level affect national policies in different or similar ways?

“Energy transition(s) in the countries of central and eastern Europe”
(Chair: Filip Černoch, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic)
The environmental goals of the European Union reflect the growing consensus on the necessity to limit the energy usage of coal, oil, and natural gas in order to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases significantly. In this Panel the case studies of energy sector transformation processes from the CEE region are provided, shedding some light on how the low-carbon technologies breaks through to the conventional energy systems, changing the way the energy is handled in this area.

“Sustaining and entrenching energy transitions. The challenge of sector coupling and sector integration”
(Chair: Jörg Kemmerzell, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany)
Sector coupling (i.e. interconnection of electricity, heat, and transport & mobility) represents a specifically intricate challenge for the prospective governance of energy transitions. Sector coupling causes specific problems of sectoral integration, since it requires the conjunction of different policy arenas constituted by different actors, institutions and logics. The Panel invites empirical case studies and comparative analyses that describe the various ways of dealing with the challenge and provide an insight into both country-specific and general perspectives on the issue.

“Political and social divisions over the energy issue”
(Chairs: Lorenz Kammermann, Eawag, Switzerland/Clau Dermont, University of Bern, Switzerland)
Political parties, interest groups as well as ordinary citizens play a central role in regulating and implementing more sustainable energy production and consumption. We are interested in factors that drive these actors’ attitudes towards the transformation of the energy system. We welcome contributions that illustrate (e.g.) the effects of beliefs and values, party heuristics, regional and social affiliations on policy-making and implementation and/or how they vary among actors.

“The social acceptance of energy and climate policy: cultural and economic explanations”
(Chair: Tomas Maltby, King’s College London, United Kingdom)
The objective of this Panel is to bring together research that explains the role that social acceptance (and the lack of) plays in facilitating/undermining energy transitions, including work conceptualising the link between populism and climate scepticism and exploring the role that scientific experts have on public opinion towards climate and energy policy.

“Energy transition and the social question: Conflicts, participation and populist forces. Does the idea of sustainability threaten to be lost in the whirlpool of events?“
(Chairs: Jörg Radtke, University of Siegen, Germany/ Stefan Wurster, Technical University Munich, Germany)
While the solution of the climate change problem is urgently required, the energy transition in some welfare nations is being put under increasing pressure by social, political and economic counter-movements. The planned Panel will examine the following questions in more detail: At local level, which examples of concrete conflict situations based on social inequality can be found? At national level, where can we prove that contrary situations lead to standstill and paralysis? At international/regional level, where can we point out that international and supranational efforts are failing?

[1] Miller CA, Richter J, O’Leary J. Socio-energy systems design: A policy framework for energy transitions. Energy Research & Social Science 2015; 6:29–40.
[2] Nance MT, Boettcher WA. Conflict, cooperation, and change in the politics of energy interdependence: An introduction. Energy Research & Social Science 2017; 24:1–5.
[3] Geels FW, Berkhout F, van Vuuren DP. Bridging analytical approaches for low-carbon transitions. Nature Climate change 2016;6(6):576–83.
[4] Turnheim B, Berkhout F, Geels F, Hof A, McMeekin A, Nykvist B et al. Evaluating sustainability transitions pathways: Bridging analytical approaches to address governance challenges. Global Environmental Change 2015; 35:239–53.
[5] Hess DJ, Brown KP. Green tea: Clean-energy conservatism as a countermovement. Environmental Sociology 2016; 3(1):64–75.
[6] Paramati SR, Apergis N, Ummalla M. Financing clean energy projects through domestic and foreign capital: The role of political cooperation among the EU, the G20 and OECD countries. Energy Economics 2017; 61:62–71.
[7] Sovacool BK. How long will it take?: Conceptualizing the temporal dynamics of energy transitions. Energy Research & Social Science 2016; 13:202–15.
[8] Sovacool BK, Geels FW. Further reflections on the temporality of energy transitions: A response to critics. Energy Research & Social Science 2016; 22:232–7.

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