Decarbonizing electricity is an urgent priority if the world is to minimize global heating under climate change, and achieve the goal of net zero carbon by mid-Century, as agreed at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015. Current efforts at decarbonizing electricity are inadequate, but are bearing some fruit.
This project addresses the legitimacy question in shifting from fossil to renewable energy in policy and practice. It compares India as a low-income emerging industrial country, Germany as a post-industrial high income country, and Australia as a high-income extractivist country. All three are federal states with sub-national jurisdictions that play an important role in electricity policy. To gain a more grounded perspective, in each country we focus on a sub-national region that has become particularly reliant on renewable energy. These are Brandenburg in Germany, Karnataka in India, and South Australia.
Germany’s energy transition is already well underway. Renewable energy already generates 35% of Germany’s electricity – and in some months of the year that figure rises to over 50%. Moreover, Germany now has a deadline for switching off the last coal-fired power plant – 2038 – and a blueprint for decarbonizing the German economy, produced by the “Coal Commission” (Commission for Growth, Structural Change and Employment). But both the transition to renewable energy and the exit from coal need to happen faster and sooner if Germany is to meet its climate goals. The ‘social acceptance’ of renewables by local communities and regions is crucial to this process, not least because it is mostly produced in rural areas, while major chunks of consumption happens in industries and urban centres.
Our study looks at how the energy transition is unfolding in Brandenburg, which has been a leader in the energy transition; it currently generates over 70% of net electricity consumption in the state from renewable sources, and is a major exporter of power to other German states. Installed wind capacity has grown steadily, with over 1883 MW approved + 322 MW under construction. At present 2.2% of land in Brandenburg is approved for wind energy installations. But further expansion of both wind and solar power in Brandenburg is encountering community opposition, with delays from protracted planning and environmental approval processes.
Based on this and the two other case studies in Australia and India, our research analyses the factors that make up and influence the ‘social legitimacy’ of wind and solar projects, and examines how state and federal policy settings influence the evolution of the energy transition on the ground. To contextualize our observations, we take the overall direction of renewable development in the national context into account, look at the histories and current context of particular sites, uncover the processes of regional policy formation, and try to understand the changes in, and attitudes towards, the economy, the government, the corporate sphere and civil society.
We consequently also ask if the shift to new forms of energy also open up possibilities for new kinds of politics – sometimes referred to as “energy democracy”.
The project is based at University of Technology Sydney and is funded by the Australian Research Council. For more details see www.decarbenergy.net.
Researcher: Katja Müller