General Background

Global renewable energy transitions are well under way. The 2017 World Energy Outlook predicts that renewables like wind, solar and biomass will make up 30% of the global energy supply by 2022. However, the nature of the ongoing energy transition is highly uncertain and increasingly contested.

Traditional energy companies are undertaking large scale investment in renewable energy projects. At the same time, public, community and co-operative groups around the world are playing an increasing role in producing and distributing energy. As their market share increases, these public, community and co-operative producers are becoming more effective policy actors. This has the potential to have significant consequences for the political status quo.

The presence of new, decentralized renewable energy actors is challenging the long-standing central political position held by existing energy industries. These new actors have the potential to shift control over jobs, economic growth and energy supplies.

Political struggles between competing interests are increasing. For example, media reports have documented conflict between traditional centralized utilities and new distributed energy actors in the United States and Germany. At the same time,  co-operative agreements on regulatory changes between new entrants and incumbent utilities are also emerging. One example is a micro grid in Brooklyn that is integrating into the existing grid.

In this new and changing environment, the nature and extent of shifts in political power (e.g. changes in access to policy makers, media influence), and their consequences for political systems and their outcomes (e.g. access to energy grids, renewable energy subsidies) remain unknown. The POWERSHIFTS project is collecting and analyzing information to help understand these dynamics.