RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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348 New Energy Spaces – Conceptualizing the geographical political economy of energy transitions (1)
Affiliation Energy Geographies Research Group
Convenor(s) Ludger Gailing (Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space, Germany)
Gavin Bridge (Durham University, UK)
Chair(s) Ludger Gailing (Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space, Germany)
Timetable Friday 01 September 2017, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Skempton Building, Lecture Theatre 207
Session abstract The session examines the spatial organization of energy transitions from a wide range of conceptual and theoretical perspectives. The concept of “new energy spaces” refers not only to spatial aspects of infrastructures like power plants and grids. Instead it also points to energy governance (supranational, national, urban, regional), the formation of energy landscapes, aspects of resource production and consumption, and the shifting relations between energy policies and energy industries. Energy transitions research is often accused of failing to explain how different spatial contexts matter and treating places merely as locations in which transitions happen. The intricate relations between spaces and energy transitions, as well as the multiple ways in which space and energy infrastructures constitute each other, are indicative of the value to be derived from conceiving energy transitions as an important geographical issue.
A key objective of the session to gain a deeper understanding of how the spatiality of energy transitions can be conceptualized. Contributions to this panel will assess the benefits (and shortcomings) of specific theoretical or conceptual approaches for the understanding of energy transitions. Suggested topics include the following approaches
• The political economy of energy transitions
• Conceptualizing the socio-materiality of energy in relational terms as socio-technical configurations
• The TPSN-framework or related concepts in the field of sociospatial relations concerning the dimensions of territory, place, scale and network,
• The governance of energy transitions
Linked Sessions New Energy Spaces – Conceptualizing the geographical political economy of energy transitions (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Rescaling Energy?! Politics of Scale and the German energy transition
Soeren Becker (Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space, Germany)
Matthias Naumann (Freie Universität Berlin, Germany)
Energy and energy transitions are a matter of scale. The decentralization of energy supply and the Europeanisation of energy markets illustrate the importance of the production and change of geographical scale. Although a focus on scale can be useful for identifying gaps within energy policy and developing alternatives (Bridge et al. 2013), the Politics of Scale debate has not addressed energy issues so far. The bulky literature on energy transitions, on the other side, uses scale – for example within the Transition Theory approach – but without explicitly questioning the political moment of the production and contestation of scale. This paper aims to combine two strands of literature: the conceptual framework of the Politics of Scale and empirical examples from the German energy transition. The development of energy regions, remunicipalisation of energy utilities and local energy conflicts around wind power will be used to demonstrate the highly contested scalar dimension of energy transitions. Therefore, the question of scale is decisive for those who have the control of and benefit from energy transitions in Germany. The paper argues that a perspective on the multifold Politics of Scale of the German energy transition can contribute not only to an understanding of the spatiality of energy transitions but also to critical energy geographies in general.
Building Urban Energy Democracy? Social Reproduction and the Local State in Europe’s New Energy Municipalism
James Angel (King's College London, UK)
Studies of urban infrastructure networks have offered some of the most insightful contributions to human geographical inquiry in recent years (Graham and Marvin 2001, Swyngedouw 2004, Loftus 2012). Yet while the field of energy geographies has also been burgeoning, attempts to carve out a specifically urban energy geography have been relatively sparse. This paper seeks to contribute to ongoing attempts to bridge this gap (see also Rutherford and Coutard 2014, Silver 2015 and Luque-Ayala and Silver 2016). The paper explores some of the ways in which European cities are becoming pivotal spaces of energy experimentation, contestation and reconfiguration. The focus, more specifically, is ongoing struggles in London and Barcelona, framed discursively around the imaginary of “energy democracy” and staged, materially, around the “remunicipalisation” of energy distribution, supply and services. Forging new conversations between state theory (Jessop 1990, Mitchell 1991, Painter 2006, Angel 2016) and materialist feminism (Katz, Mitchell and Marston 2004; Strauss and Meehan 2015), the paper argues that a novel urban energy politics is in the making. This sees urban energy infrastructures mediating attempts to offer new thinking on something of an old “Urban Question” (Castells 1977): that of the relationships between social reproduction, urban movements and the municipal state.
The contested geographies of Mozambique’s energy pathways
Joshua Kirshner (University of York, UK)
Julia Tomei (University College London, UK)
In this paper, we examine recent efforts to expand energy access in Mozambique. Alongside rising inward investments in newly-discovered fossil fuels resources, namely coal and gas, there is growing government promotion of small-scale renewable energy service projects, particularly in remote rural areas. We explore the spatial characteristics of these initiatives and their implications for expanding energy access, arguing that while large-scale grid-based initiatives and small-scale efforts based on renewable sources are happening concurrently, they are occurring in isolation from one another. We draw on the geographical and political-economic approaches to space and scale, and critiques from poststructuralist perspectives, to analyse recent electrification drives in Mozambique, the persistence of energy poverty, and the ways that energy-poor populations are experiencing these processes, as grids and off-grid systems extend into previously un-electrified space. We conclude by reflecting on the ways that the needs of low-income households and communities are being overlooked by both large and small-scale processes.
Geological pore space – a new energy infrastructure?
Alexandra Gormally (Lancaster University, UK)
This paper will focus on the new and emerging role of geological pore space, as it transitions from a site of one way extraction (eg. for minerals such as oil and gas), through to its role as a new commodity – a ‘space’ for storage. This is framed using the illustrative case of subsurface pore space for the long term storage of CO2 from Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and will discuss the political drivers that have shaped this in the UK context. Using the subsurface in this way offers it as a site for new opportunities, new contestations, and causes a reassessment and advancement of geological knowledge (assessment of opportunities and risk). Within this context, three main challenges will be highlighted 1) Ownership of pore space, 2) Access and 3) Implications for long term stewardship. Using the governance literature (eg. Cherp at al., 2011, Berkes, 2006 and Dietz et al., 2003) consideration will be given to governance implications for pore space within an energy framework. However, the need to go beyond this will be highlighted, considering concepts for exploring the subsurface more broadly, given its interplay between environmental, earth and social systems.
Understanding the political economy of demand and supply side energy policy via the policy assessment process of retrofit and unconventional gas
Niall Kerr (The University of Edinburgh, UK)
Imogen Rattle (University of Leeds, UK)
Energy policymaking is often faced with multiple objectives, diverging and contested views among publics and experts, and the need for decision-making under uncertainty. Within this context there is also the question of the potential role in the energy future of supply-side and demand-side policy options.

The aim of this analysis is to bring a critical political economy perspective to the policy and regulation impact assessment processes in key areas of demand and supply-side policy. We consider the examples of energy efficiency retrofit of buildings (EER) and unconventional gas development (UGD) policy (esp. by fracking) in the UK. With one form of policy seeking to reduce gas demand and the other seeking to increase supply, each form has objectives - social and economic - that the other does not. They also, however, help to support some mutual objectives – energy security, supporting employment. Policy for both areas has in recent history originated from the same Government Department (DECC), with policy assessment procedures emanating from here seeing markedly different approaches taken for the different areas of policy.
Energy policy is seen as particularly politicised, making attempts at an evidence based policy assessment procedure more difficult (Sorrell, 2006). This analysis addresses how the governance space afforded to policy assessment procedures reflects on the political economy of an energy system and how the different methods and actors involved influence eventual approaches to demand and supply side policy.