Latest INNOPATHS publications

Elite power in low-carbon transitions: A critical and interdisciplinary review

Modern energy systems have tended towards centralized control by states, and national and multinational energy companies. This implicates the power of elites in realizing low-carbon transitions. In particular, low-carbon transitions can create, perpetuate, challenge, or entrench the power of elites. Using a critical lens that draws from geography, political science, innovation studies, and social justice theory (among others), this article explores the ways in which transitions can exacerbate, reconfigure or be shaped by “elite power.” It does so by offering a navigational approach that surveys a broad collection of diverse literatures on power. It begins by conceptualizing power across a range of academic disciplines, envisioning power as involving both agents (corrective influence) and structures (pervasive influence). It then elaborates different types of power and the interrelationship between different sources of power, with a specific focus on elites, including conceptualizing elite power, resisting elite power, and power frameworks. The Review then examines scholarship relevant to elite power in low-carbon transitions—including the multi-level perspective, Michel Foucault, Antonio Gramsci, Anthony Giddens, Karl Marx, and other contextual approaches—before offering future research directions. The Review concludes that the power relations inherent in low-carbon transitions are asymmetrical but promisingly unstable. By better grappling with power analytically, descriptively, and even normatively, socially just and sustainable energy futures become not only more desirable but also more possible.

Written by Benjamin K. Sovacool and Marie-Claire Brisbois

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Decarbonization and its discontents: a critical energy justice perspective on four low-carbon transitions

Low-carbon transitions are often assumed as positive phenomena, because they supposedly reduce carbon emissions, yet without vigilance, there is evidence that they can in fact create new injustices and vulnerabilities, while also failing to address pre-existing structural drivers of injustice in energy markets and the wider socio-economy. With this in mind, we examine four European low-carbon transitions from an unusual normative perspective: that of energy justice. Because a multitude of studies looks at the co-benefits of renewable energy, low-carbon mobility, or climate change mitigation, we instead ask in this paper what are the types of injustices associated with low-carbon transitions? Relatedly, in what ways do low-carbon transitions worsen social risks or vulnerabilities? Lastly, what policies might be deployed to make these transitions more just? We answer these questions by first elaborating an “energy justice” framework consisting of four distinct dimensions—distributive justice (costs and benefits), procedural justice (due process), cosmopolitan justice (global externalities), and recognition justice (vulnerable groups). We then examine four European low-carbon transitions—nuclear power in France, smart meters in Great Britain, electric vehicles in Norway, and solar energy in Germany—through this critical justice lens. In doing so, we draw from original data collected from 64 semi-structured interviews with expert participants as well as five public focus groups and the monitoring of twelve large internet forums. We document 120 distinct energy injustices across these four transitions, including 19 commonly recurring injustices. We aim to show how when low-carbon transitions unfold, deeper injustices related to equity, distribution, and fairness invariably arise.

Written by Benjamin K. Sovacool, Mari Martiskainen, Andrew Hook and Lucy Baker

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The whole systems energy injustice of four European low-carbon transitions

The need for multi-scalar analysis of energy and low-carbon systems is becoming more apparent as a way to assess the holistic socioeconomic and environmental impacts of energy transitions across a variety of scales and lifecycle stages. This paper conducts a whole systems energy justice analysis of four European low-carbon transitions—nuclear power in France, smart meters in Great Britain, electric vehicles in Norway, and solar photovoltaic panels in Germany. It asks: in what ways may each of these transitions result in injustices that extend beyond communities and countries, i.e., across the whole system? It utilizes a mixed-methods research design based on 64 semi-structured research interviews with experts across all four transitions, five public focus groups, and the collection of 58 comments from twelve public internet forums to answer this question. Drawing inductively from these data, the paper identifies and analyzes 44 injustices spread across three spatial scales. Micro scale injustices concern immediate local impacts on family livelihood, community health and the environment. Meso scale injustices include national-scale issues such as rising prices for electricity and gas or unequal access to low-carbon technology. Macro scale injustices include global issues such as the extraction of minerals and metals and the circulation of waste flows. The paper then discusses these collective injustices in terms of their spatiality and temporality, before offering conclusions for energy and climate research and policy.

Written by Benjamin K. Sovacool, Andrew Hook, Mari Martiskainen and Lucy Baker

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Climate policies and skill-biased employment dynamics: Evidence from EU countries

The political acceptability of climate policies is undermined by job-killing arguments, especially for the least-skilled workers. However, evidence of the distributional impacts for different workers remains scant. We examine the associations between climate policies, proxied by energy prices, and workforce skills for 14 European countries and 15 industrial sectors over the period 1995–2011. Using a shift-share instrumental variable estimator and controlling for the influence of automation and globalization, we find that climate policies have been skill biased against manual workers and have favoured technicians. The long-term change in energy prices accounted for between 9.2% and 17.5% (resp. 4.2% and 8.0%) of the increase (resp. decrease) in the share of technicians (resp. manual workers).

Written by Giovanni Marin and Francesco Vona

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The precarious political economy of cobalt: Balancing prosperity, poverty, and brutality in artisanal and industrial mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

This study examines the political economy of cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There, a veritable mining boom for cobalt is underway, driven by rising global demand needed for batteries and other modern digital devices. Based on extensive and original field research—including expert interviews, community interviews with miners and traders, and naturalistic observation at 21 mines and 9 affiliated mining sites—this study asks: How is cobalt currently extracted? What benefits has cobalt mining brought communities? What risks has it created? And, critically, what policies need implemented to make mining there more equitable and sustainable? It documents six interrelated benefits to cobalt mining, including poverty reduction, community development, and regional stability, alongside six serious challenges, including accidents and occupational hazards, environmental pollution and degraded community health, and violent conflict and death. It then proposes seven policy recommendations for different stakeholder groups such as local and national government, industrial (and often foreign) mining companies, miners and their communities, and the manufacturers of electronic products using cobalt. The study primarily seeks to humanize the lived experiences of Congolese cobalt mining, and to reveal the tensions and tradeoffs associated with the recent mining boom.

Written by Benjamin K. Sovacool

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Climate-change induced uncertainties, risks and opportunities for the coal-based region of Silesia: Stakeholders’ perspectives

Transformation of coal-dependent regions in the European Union has received much lower research interest than industry decarbonisation. Moreover, even if territorial strategies are proposed, positive aspects are highlighted, while the risks are neglected or not addressed explicitly. In this context, we explore transition stakeholders’ beliefs and perception about political, economic, social, environmental and technological risks and opportunities for the coal-dependent region of Silesia (Poland) – the largest European coal region. A multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary assessment of risks and opportunities demonstrates that all stakeholders but NGOs consider the consequences of climate change-induced uncertainties unambiguously negative. The territorial analysis of Silesian counties based on the Prevalent Vulnerability Index scoring shows that virtually all counties with the ongoing coal mining activity are expected to face difficulties with adapting to changes.

Written by Tadeusz Skoczkowski, Sławomir Bielecki, Maksymilian Kochański and Katarzyna Korczak.

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Halving energy demand from buildings: The impact of low consumption practices

Limiting global warming below 1.5 °C requires rapid decarbonization of energy systems. Reductions of energy demand have an important role to play in a sustainable energy transition. Here we explore the extent to which the emergence of low energy consuming practices, encompassing new behaviors and the adoption of more efficient technologies, could contribute to lowering energy demand and thereby to reducing CO2 emissions.

To this end, we design three detailed energy consumption profiles which could be adopted by individuals in current and future wealthy regions. To what extent does the setting of air conditioners to higher temperatures or the widespread use of efficient showerheads reduce the aggregate energy demand? We investigate the potential of new practices at the global level for 2050 and 2100.

The adoption of new, energy saving practices could reduce global energy demand from buildings by up to 47% in 2050 and 61% in 2100 compared to a scenario following current trends. This strong reduction is primarily accounted for by changes in hot water usage, insulation of buildings and consumer choices in air conditioners and heat pumps. New behaviors and efficient technologies could make a significant long-term contribution to reducing buildings’ energy demand, and thus facilitate the achieval of stringent climate change mitigation targets while limiting the adverse sustainability impacts from the energy supply system.

Written by Antoine Levesque, Robert C. Pietzcker and Gunnar Luderer

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Assessing the impacts of setting CO2 emission targets on truck manufacturers: A model implementation and application for the EU

The European Commission introduced in 2018, for the first time, CO2emission standards for truck manufacturers, to incite additional reduction in the road transport CO2 emissions; trucks represent the second major contributor to CO2 emissions in the EU road transport. This paper presents a model based analysis which simulates the implementation of such targets in an energy economic framework and assesses the impacts of such standards using the PRIMES-TREMOVE model. We implement the CO2 emission standards on truck manufacturers as CO2 emission constraints on the new vehicle choice module. The proposed method is formulated as a mixed complementarity problem. The analysis reveals a reduction in road transport CO2 emissions and diesel consumption as a result of an uptake of more efficient truck technologies. In particular, LNG trucks are favored because of the lower emission factor of natural gas relative to that of diesel. Implementing progressively ambitious CO2 standards renders diesel trucks more expensive as their energy efficiency potential reaches its technical limit.

Written by Pelopidas and Yannis Moysoglou

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Professor Benjamin K. Sovacool authors Visions of Energy Futures: Imagining and Innovating Low-Carbon Transitions

INNOPATHS consortium member, Professor Benjamin K. Sovacool has authored a recent book entitled, Visions of Energy Futures: Imagining and Innovating Low-Carbon Transitions, that uses INNOPATHS initial work and findings.

This book examines the visions, fantasies, frames, discourses, imaginaries, and expectations associated with six state-of-the-art energy systems—nuclear power, hydrogen fuel cells, shale gas, clean coal, smart meters, and electric vehicles—playing a key role in current deliberations about low-carbon energy supply and use.

Visions of Energy Futures: Imagining and Innovating Low-Carbon Transitions unveils what the future of energy systems could look like, and how their meanings are produced, often alongside moments of contestation.

Read more about it here.

Transformative versus conservative automotive innovation styles: Contrasting the electric vehicle manufacturing strategies for the BMW i3 and Fiat 500e

The automotive industry is a critically important stakeholder influencing the sustainability of passenger transport. How traditional car manufacturers respond to carbon reduction and vehicle targets, alongside other selection pressures, can greatly influence the availability and affordability of new innovations such as electric vehicles. In this paper, we explore the automotive innovation styles surrounding two electric vehicles: the BMW i3, and the Fiat 500e. To do so, we tie together ideas from technological innovation systems and corporate product innovation style. Our results illustrate a case of a “compliance car,” the Fiat 500e, vs. the first mass production EV by a major German car manufacturer, the BMW i3. BMW adheres to a transformative change-shaping innovation style that attempts to promote in-house learning that can create value. Fiat adheres to a conservative sustaining innovation style that attempts to outsource innovation, promotes limited learning, and focuses on maintaining value. Both styles interestingly result in converging product development patterns over time.

Written by Benjamin K. Sovacool, Jan-Christoph Rogge, Claudio Saleta and Edward Masterson-Cox

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