Handbook on Resilience of Socio-Technical Systems
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Handbook on Resilience of Socio-Technical Systems

Edited by Matthias Ruth and Stefan Goessling-Reisemann

The goal to improve the resilience of social systems – communities and their economies – is increasingly adopted by decision makers. This unique and comprehensive Handbook focuses on the interdependencies of these social systems and the technologies that support them. Special attention is given to the ways in which resilience is conceptualized by different disciplines, how resilience may be assessed, and how resilience strategies are implemented. Case illustrations are presented throughout to aid understanding.
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Chapter 18: Assessing resilience in energy system change through an energy democracy lens

Jennie C. Stephens


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.

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