- The Political Economy of Sustainable Energy Transitions
Few people would disagree about the need for a sustainable energy transition, and sooner rather than later. Many also agree that technology and economics are not all that matters, and that politics, institutions, and culture too often are neglected. But there is far less agreement on how the energy transition is to be achieved and how wide-ranging the changes need to be for it to happen. These three books illustrate exactly the latter point. They all touch upon many of the same topics, address the political economy of energy, and identify more or less the same obstacles to change, but they vary greatly in their recipes and approaches.
Two of the books, Anthony Patt’s Transforming Energy and Princen, Manno, and Martin’s Ending the Fossil Fuel Era, takeon moreor lessexactly thesame problem. As the titles suggest, these are climate change books about ending the fossil fuel era by transforming energy. Halff, Sovacool, and Rozhon’s Energy Poverty touches on climate change to a far lesser extent. Instead, this is a book on how to achieve energy access in the energy-poor world—yet another energy transition. Thus, the three books primarily overlap with respect to the political economy of sustainable energy transitions, identifying both obstacles to such transitions and the means to overcome them.
The Energy Poverty volume aims “to offer the first authoritative resource documenting all aspects of energy poverty, a state-of-the-art reference tool for energy entrepreneurs, policymakers, NGOs, development economists and all [End Page 130] others interested in the field” (p. 3). This book is different from the other two reviewed here in several respects. First, development is at least as important to its topic as energy transition. Energy poverty is typically not included in measures of human poverty, and energy access never became part of the United Nations Millennium Goals. Still, as of 2010, 1.2 billion people were without electricity (p. 78). The book therefore deals with such questions as whether the alleviation of energy poverty is possible without sending the planet into a carbon coma. It is: energy access for all by 2030 would only increase global electricity generation by 2.5 percent, and CO2 emissions by only 0.6–0.7 percent. The development of developing countries is not what would push us over the edge in terms of climate change.
The book aims to be a reference tool (a goal at which it largely succeeds) rather than focusing on how to forge an energy transition. Granted, it has chapters on different countries, as well as topical chapters, including one on energy subsidies, revealing not only that fossil fuel subsidies dwarf renewable energy subsidies, but also that energy subsidies have been a distinctly ineffective way of extending energy access to the energy poor. But because the book aims to be a reference tool, it is harder to find one overarching perspective throughout—the editors only account for two of the twenty-two chapters. Instead, here you will find chapters on different cases and on different energy-poverty-related topics, but no concluding chapter, even if the final chapter, on alleviating energy poverty in Africa, touches upon core themes.
This ties in with the third respect in which this book is different—namely, in being an edited volume. Granted, Princen et al. also acted as editors, but they themselves wrote all of the chapters in Parts 1 and 3, with Part 2 consisting of a number of cases studies deliberately picked to illustrate the book’s argument. Thus, Princen et al. and Patt have far stronger overarching perspectives, with one coherent narrative rather than a multiplicity of related ones.
In fact, the latter two books make for a highly complementary pair. In terms of how they define the problem, identify the most...