Session 2An introduction to the energy transition

When we talk about the energy transition we mean moving from an energy system that relies on fossil fuels (burning oil, gas and coal), to one that is based upon renewable energy (energy from wind, sun or water). The IEA (International Energy Agency) says that it is possible for us to move to an energy system dominated by renewable energy but for that to happen we need large-scale action to develop renewable energy infrastructure across the world (2021). The Solutions Project has made a visual map for any country in the world to see what renewable energy could look like in 2050.

In many parts of the world, the energy transition could mean an overhaul of existing energy infrastructure. This means, looking into how our energy grids (that distribute and transport energy) function, how we store energy, and how efficient our homes, lifestyles and transport is so that we reduce demand. It could also mean a restructuring of national and international economies, as fossil fuel extraction currently makes up a significant proportion of economic activity. The energy transition will also require a significant increase in investment in developing the technologies that we need for the future. The economic cost of this transition is not negligible, but a proactive, planned and actively managed transition can not only mitigate against some of the worst economic impacts but also has the potential to deliver positive economic outcomes such as well paid green jobs and revitalisation of our manufacturing industries.

The energy transition will happen - it’s a matter of when rather than if. This is because without it we face climate catastrophe. It is up to us to ensure the transition happens in a swift and just way that creates a new, resilient, green economy. As we will keep mentioning, the energy transition is an opportunity to ensure an inclusive world for all peoples.

There are three key aspects to the energy transition.

  1. Where our energy comes from

  2. Who owns the energy we use

  3. How much energy we use

The first is moving away from burning fossil fuels to using renewable energy.

The second is about how energy is owned and who profits from that energy. It is also about who gets to make key decisions regarding use, investment, price and so on. If all of our energy is owned by private companies then decisions will be made to maximize profit to pay shareholders dividends, which is a private company’s primary function. A community or municipal-owned solar farm, on the other hand, would instead be incentivised to reinvest the profit to make repairs and provide cheaper energy for consumers. If we are to remain in privatised energy systems, then governments need stricter regulations to limit the amount of profit that can be made. You can read more about this in Session 3.

The third is reducing our energy consumption (how much energy we use) so that we don’t need to produce as much energy as we currently do. By reducing our energy use we can ensure that 100% of our energy demand is met by renewable energy. You can read more about this in Session 4.

How can you participate in the energy transition?

There are many different actors in the energy transition: the companies that produce and distribute energy; the industries and businesses that consume energy; governments that regulate energy production and supply; local authorities that set local energy policy, have land assets and could produce energy; and citizens who use energy to heat and light their homes.

As a local authority you could be instrumental in finding ways to reduce energy poverty by retrofitting homes, and generating your own renewable energy. See our case studies on Plymouth and Zenica.

As an individual or community, you could set up cooperative or community energy or retrofit schemes, lobby your local authority to make changes or even campaign to make your national government change policy. 

Going through this course will illustrate the different components of the energy transition at the local level, and we hope, give you ideas for ways in which you can participate in the energy transition. Throughout all of the research that we have done, and even in the IEA’s recommendations, meaningful citizen engagement has shown to be an essential part of the transition. Check out the amazing work that took place in Cadiz, Spain to build a democratic energy transition, and the work that has been taking place in Ghent, Belgium.