The need to rapidly decarbonise the energy systems which underpin modern societies is widely accepted, yet there is also growing criticism of ‘top down’, technocentric transition visions. Transitions are, such critics claim, unpredictable, contested, and comprise of multiple and competing perspectives. This paper opens up to diverse visions of UK energy transitions by studying a corpus of twelve visions produced across different ‘settings’ of the state, market, science & technology, and civil society. Adopting a relational co-productionist perspective (Chilvers and Longhurst, 2015) the paper analyses similarities and differences of the visions in relation to four dimensions of socio-technical change: meanings, knowings, doings and organisings. Whilst research on energy transitions often focuses on dominant imaginaries within political cultures and centres of power, it is an explicit intention of this paper to also comparatively map distributed and diverse visions.
The paper reveals that what is often presented as a primarily ‘technical’ transition is always normative in bringing forward particular forms of social and political order. Our analysis highlights a distinction between more ‘centred’ and more ‘alternative’ imaginaries of the energy transition. The centred imaginary – associated with the state, business, and science and technology settings – envisages a techno-fix, market driven transition, motivated by the energy trilemma, and contributing to ongoing economic growth. In contrast, an alternative vision, originating primarily in civil society, is one that is motivated by a broader set of issues (e.g. equity, biodiversity), is facilitated by voluntaristic mechanisms, involves broader social and cultural change, and is economically oriented towards ‘degrowth’. Civil society visions are therefore a key locus of diversity across the four dimensions of socio-technical change and also tend to imagine more active and diverse roles for the public than visions originating from other settings. We conclude with a call for more reflexive approaches to energy futures work, that can open up and account for the societal dimensions, politics and potential diversities rather than closing down around narrow top-down approaches to governing energy transitions.
Longhurst, N. and Chilvers, J. (2016) Mapping Diverse Visions of UK Energy Transitions: Co-producing socio-technical imaginaries. 3S Working Paper 2016-28. Norwich: Science, Society and Sustainability Research Group.