ACCELERATING DECENTRALIZED ENERGY TRANSITIONS: A SOCIO-TECHNICAL PERSPECTIVE
Whereas past transitions were often long multi-decadal affairs, the current energy transition requires a much shorter time horizon. Reducing carbon emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change is essential. Socially and technologically driven pressures are creating opportunities to observe accelerated social-technical change in action. By observing ongoing accelerated transitions, the goal of this dissertation is to further the understanding of the mechanisms of these transitions. This dissertation asks two questions: (1) In the context of accelerated social and technical change, is society or technology the driver? And (2) how can an understanding of this dynamic be used to further accelerate social and technical change? To explore these research questions, this dissertation focuses on a case study of a particular accelerated transition that is currently unfolding—decentralized energy. To operationalize answering the addressing questions, comparative research alongside an in-depth case study analysis was conducted. The dissertation is divided into five manuscript chapters. The first manuscript, Chapter Two, begins with an overall discussion on decentralized energy: its opportunities, challenges, and justice considerations. The next manuscript, Chapter Three, compares the governance dimensions of decentralized energy transitions in three medium-sized northern cities. Using the same three case studies, Chapter Four compares the case studies using energy futures analysis. The remaining two manuscripts, Chapter Five and Chapter Six focus on a single case study of solar energy in Saskatchewan. In Chapter Five, the paper explores the idea of effective public engagement that considers how energy justice issues can be used to drive DE transitions. Chapter Six builds from the previous chapter and argues for practical suggestions to accelerate DE transitions based on observations from the public engagement activities and a discussion on decision-making. This dissertation concludes with three insights that synthesize the aggregated findings. (1) There are unintended consequences to accelerated energy transitions. Energy justice can be used as a framework to unearth tensions and potentially attempt to predict where unintended consequences may appear. (2) A transformed role of the state is needed to facilitate acceleration, one that employs a more interactive form of governance and public policy. (3) Further research that uses a comparative approach with a focus on governance dimensions can lead to more useful insights to understand accelerated transitions.
energy transitions, comparative policy, energy justice, sustainability transitions, acceleration, decentralized energy, socio-technical transitions
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
School of Environment and Sustainability
Environment and Sustainability