Political power and renewable energy futures: A critical review

Elsevier, Energy Research and Social Science, Volume 35, January 2018
Burke M.J., Stephens J.C.
Inspired by the energy democracy movement, this conceptual review critically explores relationships between concentrated or distributed renewable energy and political power. Advocates assert that because the renewable energy transition is fundamentally a political struggle, efforts to shift from fossil fuels and decarbonize societies will not prove effective without confronting and destabilizing dominant systems of energy power. The objectives of this paper include: 1) theorizing and exploring the relationships between renewable energy and political power, 2) critically assessing tensions associated with an energy democracy agenda, and 3) drawing out the implications for democratizing renewable energy development in practice. Distributed energy-politics posits that distributed energy sources and technologies enable and organize distributed political power and vice versa. Efforts are underway to find ways to re-organize distributed energy flows into aggregated and concentrated stocks of energy and other forms of political power. More democratic renewable energy futures may benefit from strengthening democratic practices and outcomes, extending democratization of energy systems across all components, stages and end uses, and sharpening positions relative to dominant pressures of capitalism and market ideology, the ideology of unlimited growth, and the modernist/industrialist agenda. Renewable energy systems offer a possibility but not a certainty for more democratic energy futures.