Energy civilization through industrial modernity and beyond

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Jensen, Thor O.
Shearing, Clifford
Skauge, Tom
Persson, Andreas N.
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Three of the authors (Jensen Shearing, Skauge) are in the core group of the SANCOOP project: Transition to Sustainable Energy Systems in Emerging Economies. It is a South African Focused Comparative Project, financed by the Norwegian and South African Research councils 2014-2016. The included countries are Brazil, China, India and South Africa. This paper is based on theoretical discussions early in the project and some preliminary impressions from our interviews. Energy systems have gained new relevance. Dominated by their electricity component, energy systems were the main ingredient in forming advanced industrial-based civilizations. These energy systems are now a main actor that threatens to destroy them. The IPCC (2014) declared electrical energy production (especially coal) as the main driver of climate change. Through energy production patterns, humans are now able to destroy nature’s foundations of their civilizations; we are in the age of the Anthropocene. The paper will discuss the relation between humans and nature, as seen through energy. At the start, energy was mainly a local, even family matter, requiring skill and care. Since energy in itself is not a scarce resource, the problem of energy sources, organization and institutions comes into focus. We will discuss the perspectives and practices towards nature that came with industrialism, the new forces of governance and the resulting institutions of huge electricity grids and big power plants that resulted. The climate change challenge is one driver of change. Other drivers are cultural in nature: The century-old institutions of power production are developing problems of change and learning, but they remain powerful. Consumers start to be actors in new ways, in ordinary markets, but also as energy citizens and co-producers of energy. Technology development and structural changes point to smaller scale, flexibility and decentralization of energy production. These factors work together and create rapid development of new niches of energy production and many of them are approaching their tipping points to become major production regimes. The paper concludes with a discussion of actors forming the new system, including consumers as energy citizens and the crucial new regulatory challenges that emerge.

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Euro-Asian Journal of Sustainable Energy Development Policy

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