Background

Global renewable energy transitions are well under way. The 2017 World Energy Outlook Report 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.

Incumbent energy companies are undertaking large scale investment in renewable energy projects. At the same time, community and co-operative groups around the world are playing an increasing role in producing and distributing energy. As their market share increases, these community and co-operative  producers are becoming increasingly effective political 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 and utilities. These new actors are beginning 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. For example, a micro grid in Brooklyn is working for policy change with an existing utility to integrate into the 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.