No smooth energy transitions in sight
- experiences from the turbulent history of renewable energy
Wind energy and biogas are today considered economically feasible renewable energy solutions, even though there still might be controversies on costs calculations and CO2 emission reductions. This has not been the case during the three decades of technological improvements since these renewable energy sources were taken up (again) following the energy crisis in the early 1970's. Political controversies and radically changing economic assessment as well as technical constraint bound in the design, systems and material agency of the technologies have made this process rather uneven and implied radical shifts in both the actor alliances involved and in the engagement of regulatory measures and knowledge. The involved political, regulatory, technical, and value changes serve as very good test-cases for a transition that in the coming decades will continue with even more controversy and involving further radical changes in technology and energy use practices.
The paper will explore how the interwoven relationship between renewable energy technologies based on wind and biomass, co-generation plants primary based on fossil fuels and institutional and regulatory changes have formed the Danish and European power and heat energy system so far. This implies radical shifts and continued controversies not only in priorities and political goals, but as much in the means and frameworks that set the economic and institutional conditions for change. Also the visions related to technologies and their improvements based on practical experiences and preferred solutions play a delicate part in this transformation. Even the content of goals and measures of sustainability have not been stable, and still a transformation has been initiated though not based on clear sighted management nor taking a straight pathway for change. The ability to adapt to changing conditions during a transformative process of change seem to be the rule, not the application of single measure models and strategies lasting over long periods of time. This challenges the involved regulating bodies, institutions, and stakeholders as they have continuously to adapt and translate their goals and applied measures to the changing conditions. Infant technology support, niche strategies, marked based pull mechanisms, reorganised institutions, marked creation, specific policy measures, etc. all have their time and may end up countering intentions if not adjusted.
Important lessons are to be learned about technology improvements, challenges to the prediction of outcomes, and the need for continued adaptations of energy innovation strategies and regulatory policies in a continued climate of controversy over means and ends. A focus on transition management has to be substituted for a multi-stakeholder and controversy laden framework to understand and give advice concerning sector and societal transitions.
Ulrik Jørgensen, prof.
Dept. of Management Engineering
Technical University of Denmark