Throughout the world, energy systems are transforming to more efficient, renewable-based configurations constituting a large-scale socio-technical transition. This energy system change has the potential to strengthen societal resilience in multiple ways. Despite this potential, depending on how the renewable energy transition progresses, energy system change could perpetuate, rather than reduce, vulnerabilities, societal inequality and the unequal distribution of risks and benefits associated with energy. Also depending on how resilience is framed, in terms of scale and time-frame, different types of energy system changes with variable societal impact could be prioritized and justified by the resilience imperative. Given this complexity, the novel concept of energy democracy provides a valuable lens to assess societal resilience and guide energy system changes toward contributing to reducing, rather than perpetuating, vulnerabilities and inequalities associated with current fossil-fuel based energy systems. By explicitly connecting energy policy with social and political outcomes, energy democracy re-articulates energy systems as distributed public works that distribute social benefits among local communities. The energy democracy concept extends the social demands of energy systems beyond access, reliability and affordability to include issues of social justice and jobs as well as a broad suite of environmental, health and economic benefits. By explicitly connecting societal issues that are generally dealt with independently, energy democracy framing provides a social, political and cultural framework to assess societal resilience during energy system transformation. The aims of this chapter are (1) to explore the potential for enhancing societal resilience during the renewable energy transition, (2) to propose an energy democracy approach to assess societal resilience and guide change as energy systems shift away from predominantly centralized fossil-fuel based systems toward more distributed, decentralized and heterogeneous renewable-based systems, and (3) to review policies that embrace an energy democracy approach.
Stephen M. McCauley and Jennie C. Stephens
Electricity systems worldwide are in the midst of major changes as renewable energy expands and related infrastructures and governance regimes adapt toward a post-fossil fuel future. At the same time, human societies are becoming increasingly dependent on electricity as more basic societal functions are electrified. As this energy transition progresses, energy geographies are reconfigured, as technologies, infrastructures, institutions and cultural practices shift to accommodate new norms of energy production and consumption. The emerging landscape of renewable power is more distributed, decentralized and heterogeneous compared to the highly centralized production and transmission of electricity in the fossil fuel era. The authors explore the implications of this shift for opportunities for publics to participate meaningfully in and share benefits from the electricity sector. Using a comparative framework, they suggest that a shift to renewable electricity could create societal opportunities for participation and control.