Headline: Political Economy of the Global Energy Transition: A Multi-Scalar Perspective

The transformation of the energy system represents a global phenomenon. As the world starts embracing a low carbon paradigm and as the expansion of renewable energy accelerates, energy systems are being reshaped around the globe. Although the shift away from high-carbon fuels is still too slow to effectively fight climate change, its far-reaching socio-economic impacts are beginning to take shape. Different speeds of investment in low carbon technology and infrastructure are giving rise to global low carbon leaders and laggards. The recalibration of (energy) value chains in conjunction with differing speeds of technology deployment and transfer (Quitzow, Huenteler, and Asmussen 2017) is creating both winners and losers (Goldthau 2017). These uneven developments have started to prompt states to revisit the role and function of industrial policy (Meckling and Hughes 2017). The role of community-level practices and decentralized renewable energy applications continues to evolve, rivalling or complementing national or regional policy frameworks (Kuzemko et al. 2017). On the European level, the low carbon transition is marked by important differences in normative aims and governance choices (Lilliestam and Hanger 2016), suggesting contestation both over the scope and the outcome of the energy transformation.

These coinciding trends are giving rise to political struggles occurring at different scales and governance levels. New actors and institutional arrangements are emerging and challenging the status quo. How these socio-economic impacts and resulting political struggles are managed has important implications for the speed and direction of future energy transitions. As pointed out by Sovacool (2017), energy transition processes are characterized by lock-ins and path dependencies, which may slow down the pace of change. At the same, there have been periods of rapid, policy-driven transformation, when technological, institutional and economic adjustments have happened in tandem. How these adjustments are playing out in different countries and regions around the world is subject to increasing scholarly attention (Fankhauser and Jotzo 2017; Kern and Markard 2016; Power et al. 2016; Shen and Xie 2017). Yet, studies tend to remain pre-occupied with country-level dynamics or technology specifics.

Studies with a global political economy perspective of energy transitions, in turn, are only beginning to emerge. For the most part, the literature remains focused on the changing energy geopolitics. O’Sullivan, Overland and Sandalow (2017) focus on scrambles over rare earth materials and the security of region-spanning electricity supergrids. Scholten (2018) points to the changing dynamics between energy producers and consumers, notably in oil. Hache (2016) suggests changing power relations here, but also new dependencies. Petrostates might come under pressure, challenging regional stability (Van de Graaf and Verbruggen 2015). A systematic assessment of the global energy transition, acknowledging the different governance levels, is so far missing.

In this section, we aim to adopt a multi-scalar perspective on the global energy transition. The section seeks to bring together novel contributions on the political economy of energy transition processes occurring at the global, national, sub-national and community-level. It aims to shed light on the simultaneous changes occurring at different geographical scales and place them in the context of a global energy transition. This perspective is complemented by two cross-cutting issues: the dynamics of innovation and industrial policy in emerging clean energy sectors, on the one hand, and the political economy of phasing-out fossil fuels and the related processes of structural change, on the other. Adding these cross-cutting themes provides an entry-point for linking the various geographical scales and levels of governance. It thereby seeks to highlight important inter-linkages across the different scales and promote an academic conversation on the related implications for policy and governance.

Fankhauser, Sam, and Frank Jotzo. 2017. Economic growth and development with low-carbon energy. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 9 (1):n/a-n/a.
Goldthau, Andreas. 2017. The G20 must govern the shift to low-carbon energy. Nature 546:203-205.
Hache, Emmanuel. 2016. La géopolitique des énergies renouvelables : amélioration de la sécurité énergétique et / ou nouvelles dépendances ? Revue internationale et stratégique 1 (110):26-36.
Kern, Florian, and Jochen Markard. 2016. Analysing energy transitions: Combining insights from transitions studies and international political economy. In The Palgrave Handbook of the International Political Economy of Energy edited by T. Van de Graaf, B. Sovacool, A. Ghosh, F. Kern and M. Klare. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 391-429.
Kuzemko, Caroline, Catherine Mitchell, Matthew Lockwood, and Richard Hoggett. 2017. Policies, politics and demand side innovations: the untold story of Germany's energy transition. Energy Research & Social Science 28:58-67.
Lilliestam, Johan, and Susanne Hanger. 2016. Shades of green: centralisation, decentralisation and controversy among European renewable electricity visions. Energy Research & Social Science 17 (20-29).
Meckling, Jonas, and Llewelyn Hughes. 2017. Globalizing Solar: Global Supply Chains and Trade Preferences. International Studies Quarterly 61 (2):225-235.
O’Sullivan, Meghan, Indra Overland, and David Sandalow. 2017. The Geopolitics of Renewable Energy. Cambridge MA: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs June.
Power, Marcus, Peter Newell, Lucy Baker, Harriet Bulkeley, Joshua Kirshner, and Adrian Smit. 2016. The political economy of energy transitions in Mozambique and South Africa: The role of the Rising Powers. Energy Research & Social Science 17:10-19.
Quitzow, Rainer, Joern Huenteler, and Hanna Asmussen. 2017. Development trajectories in China’s wind and solar energy industries: How technology-related differences shape the dynamics of industry localization and catching up. Journal of Cleaner Production 158 122-133.
Scholten, Daniel. 2018. The Geopolitics of Renewables—An Introduction and Expectations. In The Geopolitics of Renewables, edited by D. Scholten. London: Springer, 1-36.
Shen, Wei, and Lei Xie. 2017. The Political Economy for Low-carbon Energy Transition in China: Towards a New Policy Paradigm? New Political Economy 23 (4):407-421.
Sovacool, Benjamin. 2017. The History and Politics of Energy Transitions. In Douglas Arent, Channing Arndt, Mackay Miller, Finn Tarp, and Owen Zinaman. The Political Economy of Clean Energy Transitions. Oxford: Oxford Scholarship Online.
Van de Graaf, Thijs, and Ariel Verbruggen. 2015. The oil endgame: Strategies of oil exporters in a carbon-constrained world. Environmental Science & Policy 54:456–462.

Panel List

P116 Energy Transition Policies and Their Dynamics View Panel Details
P125 Europeanisation of the Clean Energy Transition: Driver or Barrier of a Carbon-Free Electricity System? View Panel Details
P137 Foreign Policy Dimension of Clean Energy Transitions View Panel Details
P149 Global Governance and the Clean Energy Transition View Panel Details
P168 Innovation and Industrial Policy in the Global Clean Energy Sector View Panel Details
P268 Political Economy of Energy Transitions in Central and Eastern Europe View Panel Details
P387 The International Political Economy of the Energy Transition in the Global South View Panel Details
P392 The Political Economy of Coal View Panel Details
P393 The Political Economy of Local Sustainable Energy Transitions I View Panel Details
P394 The Political Economy of Local Sustainable Energy Transitions II View Panel Details
P395 The Political Economy of Phasing-Out Fossil Fuels View Panel Details