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.

Breaking the Rules! Energy Transitions as Social Innovations

The Leibniz Research Alliance is hosting an international conference entitled “Breaking the Rules! Energy Transitions as Social Innovations” that will take place on June 14th – 15th, 2018, at WZB Berlin Social Science Center.

The transformation of energy systems has profound implications for the ways in which our societies are organized, and must therefore be understood as process of social change and social innovation. In many ways, energy systems structure our economies and mirror our attitudes and values regarding the definition of public goods, of justice, and of equity. The transition from one system to another calls these habits, values, practices, and norms into question, and replaces them with others, in a process that is necessarily conflictive and that may surpass our traditional (educationally formed) knowledge and understanding of energy. Among others, energy transitions challenge our basic understanding of what energy means for our everyday lives, where and by whom it should be produced, and how it should be distributed and traded. The range of possible transition pathways is spurring the imagination and the creativity of individual entrepreneurs, large companies, collectives, utilities, and many more. At the same time, these highly innovative dynamics are being resisted by incumbents and increasingly also by local protest groups.

The conference invites international scholars to discuss social innovations in the context of energy transitions, and to spark a debate about their meaning for theories of social innovation, for questions of energy governance, for the evolution of social energy innovations and how they challenge existing power structures in the energy sector. The conference is guided by four overarching themes, each of which will be explored in at least two conference sessions.

For a detailed overview of conference themes, sessions and session convenors please click here.


  • Theorizing social energy innovations
  • Governing social energy innovations
  • Drivers and obstacles to social energy innovations
  • Transforming existin gpower structures through social energy innovations


  • Politicizing clean energy transitions: transformative politics and the popularization of social innovations
  • Social innovations in energy transition through transdisciplinary research
  • Governing urban innovations in energy and climate governance: closing the gap between leaders and laggards
  • Real life experiments as a governing tool for social innovations in the energy sector
  • Digitized energy transitions and social change
  • Backward oriented social innovations: How populist movements can stop clean energy transitions
  • Enabling citizens to engage in energy-related decision-making processes: The role of education, participation and ownership for a successful energy transition
  • Subsurface energy – challenges, constraints, acceptance

We invite paper presentations that either

  • explore one of the broader conference themes, or
  • relate to one of the specific conference sessions.

Abstracts should not exceed 500 words, and must be submitted in English language to Leslie Quitzow by March 1st, 2018 ( & CC session convenor). Please be sure to include your name, institution, and the name of the conference session that you are applying for. Please direct all questions regarding the session design, presentation format, expected content etc. to the session convenor. Questions regarding overall conference organization may be directed to Leslie Quitzow.

Successful applicants will be notified by March 15th, 2018. Presenters will also be invited to submit their full papers after the conference for possible publication in a special issue in a peer-reviewed journal (the journal will be announced in March). Those interested in participating in this process are asked to submit their full papers by July 15th, 2018 for review (one month after the conference). The special issue will be published in mid-2019.

For any further organizational questions, please also contact Leslie Quitzow.

Fourth Energy and Society Conference: Energy transitions in a divided world

Midterm conference of the European Sociological Association Research Network 12 – Environment and Society

3 – 5 September 2018, University of Exeter, UK

The Energy & Society Conferences have been aiming at inspiring and providing networking opportunities for researchers interested in energy and society issues. Following the success of the three previous conferences, we will now be hosting the fourth conference in Exeter. We hope this can be a great occasion for developing the sense of community that has been emerging from these meetings, as well as from the conferences of the European Sociological Association. In order to provide a lively forum for insightful debates, the conference will include other formats besides keynote presentations and sessions for oral presentations. Participants will also be able to present and discuss their research in roundtables and in poster sessions. The conference will also offer workshops proposed and organized by participants. Moreover, participants are invited to propose informal meetings, which will be announced during the conference. We hope that the social events will also contribute to make this a pleasant and friendly conference.

More information about the venue, accommodation, how to reach the venue, excursions and the other social events to follow soon.

Call for papers

The deadline for the submission of abstracts and workshop proposals is January 15 2018.

Read more about keynote speakers, scientific committee and submission process.

The Energy and Society Network

Find out more about the Network and how to become a member.

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