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Just energy transition

The energy transition is a complex transformation process that is not only about technology -moving towards renewable energy sources-, but even more so about societal and institutional change. The energy transition requires and provides opportunities for actors to take on new roles.

For example, think of citizens producing their own energy or contributing to grid flexibility. It requires new practices of energy provisioning and consumption, new rules and regulation. With that, the energy transition is a process of societal transformation. It can be understood as a wicked issue, that not only involves high uncertainties, but also different ideas about the means and pace by which the energy transition should be unfolded. Conflict is thus inherent to energy transition.

The value of conflict

Societal transformation, like the energy transition, is related to different stakeholder interests and perceptions. This can create conflicts; How to deal with residents protesting against the siting of a new energy project? And how can policy makers respond to climate activists and calls for swift action? Such conflicts are not something to prevent or downplay. Rather, they are a source of learning. Although some may view conflict as an obstruction to effective policymaking, it is an essential part of steering the energy transition in a democratic and just manner.

Aiming for energy justice

The energy transition is about more than reaching a carbon neutral society. It is also about ensuring that all groups in society can equally benefit from the transition, and especially, that it does not come at the expense of certain groups. Think for instance of subsidies for electric vehicles, that are mainly used by the rich. Or, think of the consequence of phasing out fossil fuels for local communities in (already deprived) mining areas. Taking such justice concerns seriously foregrounds the interests of marginalised people in the energy transition. The idea of energy justice has become an important issue on the agenda of policymakers and communities all over the world.

A better understanding of participation

One way in which energy justice can be fostered is through participation. Such participation can entail that citizens are involved by policymakers in policy and planning processes. Another type of participation is â€˜material participation’ in energy systems: citizens owning resources such as solar panels, participating in energy communities, or having their e-car batteries used by grid operators to balance the grid. 

We study these participation processes to understand their effectiveness and legitimacy. Although participation is typically regarded as a means to increase legitimacy, often it does not. Participation can be selective and exclusive, where there is typically an overrepresentation of highly educated, white male participants in participation processes.

Develop new processes for participation

We also work on the design of participatory processes to support learning processes amongst actors, and to support collective decision-making on energy infrastructure. These participatory processes, in which we for instance collaborate with modellers, are designed to support actors in their anticipation of an uncertain future, while reflecting on value trade-offs to be made. This way we do not only study, but also seek to contribute to a just energy transition. 

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