Energy system transformation seems, at this moment in history, inevitable. While widespread disagreements exist over the nature of the current energy crisis and possible alternative energy pathways, few disagree that the combination of the Iraq war and climate change have dealt a one-two punch to long-term viability of the current energy system and especially its reliance on oil. As a consequence, enormous investments are now being made in energy system research and development, including renewable and other carbon free energy sources (nuclear, solar, wind, hydrogen); biomass energy systems, which are carbon neutral; and carbon capture and sequestration systems. Whichever combination of these arrangements wins—and there may, in fact, be a long period in which a dynamic mix of technologies wins—some kind of change is seen as essential to put human society on a sustainable foundation for the future.
At the Energy, Society and Policy Initiative (ESPI), our emphasis is on the social dynamics of energy system transformation and on appropriate policy development to ensure that processes of energy system transformation contribute to the solution of wider and deeper forms of societal injustice within which energy systems have long held a central position. Like all technological systems, energy systems are not just systems of machinery; they are also intimately interwoven into people's lives, livelihoods, and lifestyles. People from all walks of life, in all parts of the globe, are employees and consumers of and investors in energy systems. Energy systems are enormous generators of wealth, generating at the same time massive cycles of boom and bust in local economies. Energy system are global in reach, connecting individual lives and livelihoods at sites of production, conversion, distribution, and consumption in a web of intricate social, economic, and political relationships. Energy policy must therefore account not only for the technology and economics of energy systems but their social relationships and forms of justice and injustice. Only by so doing might it be possible to achieve energy system transformation that achieves the best outcomes not only for technical and economic efficiency but also for human wellbeing and welfare.
Our objective in ESPI is to establish a strong program of research and policy engagement that seeks to understand and analyze the social dynamics of past, present, and future energy systems and to develop and design reflexive mechanisms of energy systems governance by which humanistic and social science research can inform the process of energy system transformation to create enhanced societal outcomes around the globe.