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Scientific paper


The Geography of Energy Transitions. The emergence of local contexts as main actors of a sustainable turn

Luigi Gaudio

Entry type:
Scientific paper

Year of publication:

Degrowth Conference Venice 2012


Abstract: Since the 1973’s oil crisis everyone on the planet was well aware of the economic development’s dependence from fossil fuels supply and their producers. Nowadays, just like then, an economic and energy crisis has once again highlighted this unsolved dependence. Dealing with such a complex dynamic implies a substantial shift in every country’s societal structure aspects: economic, political and cultural. Such a shift towards a substantially new energy regime cannot be managed recurring to the traditional management tools (traditional regulation, policy and market measures), but requires an effective societal restructuring: a transition.
However, there is still a wide debate concerning the localisation of these processes. While such profound changes must run over complex systems that involve at least national level structures, empirical analysis reveal that at such level wide participation is weakened and transition initiatives tend to be driven by the powerful regime actors of the involved sector (e.g. corporations) (Kemp, Rotmans, & Loorbach, 2007).
In this paper, given the recent democratic developments and pressures towards power decentralisation, I challenge the application of energy transition initiatives only at the national level. Pushing further this assumption, I tried to understand how narrower contexts can interpret transitions and create networks of transitions experiences, developing a multi-scalar perspective and analysing the application of transition methods on the regional and local level.
I analysed the small Southern-Italian municipality of Melpignano, where has been recently established a community-cooperative in charge of the creation and management of a wide network of solar panels over local buildings through the active involvement of the local community. Using both the literature on Transition Management (Rotmans, Loorbach, & van Asselt, 2001) and Transition Culture (Hopkins, 2008) as useful interpreting tools, and previous researches on localisation of transitions (Späth & Rohracher, 2010), through qualitative research methods, I investigated the structure of this narrow transitional process, the role of central government, the pressures on stakeholders and institutions to design shared transitional paths (e.g. technological, economic, socio-political, environmental), the level and the methods of stakeholders involvement in the processes, and their perception of them.
The main aim of this work is therefore to contribute to a deeper understanding of lower- scale initiatives’ potential to initiate energy transition processes.
The overall results of the research pointed out how, even if participation is more likely to be facilitated at a narrower scale level, the intervention of national authorities providing a set of measures across the territory (i.e. feed-in-tariffs schemes) are needed and preconditions to substantial transition initiatives. Moreover, the local contexts are perceived as the best available backgrounds where participated energy policies can be designed and implemented and tend to be seen as far more efficient in opening networking spaces where heterogeneous subjects cooperate, confront each other, and design shared paths towards more sustainable energy structures. On the other hand the lack of political national sensibility and political planning towards this topic is perceived as the main barrier to the implementation of these processes, limiting the chances of structural success of localised initiatives. This immobile national context leads to perceive the local scale as a political substitute to the absence of national political action and likely to challenge the traditional hierarchical political cascade creating a bottom-up pressure process through which to scale up successful initiatives.

Contribution to the 3rd International Degrowth Conference for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Venice in 2012.

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