Reconfiguring Energy for Social Equity

How can the energy transition produce positive effects on social equity in rural and urban contexts?

A consortium led by the Urban Futures Studio aims to illuminate how the transition from fossil to renewable energy can be leveraged to address the Sustainable Development Goals, specifically SDG7 (transition to renewables) and, while doing so, deliver on SDG5 & SDG10 (reducing inequalities) and SDG16 (inclusive and just institutions). The consortium, consisting of leading institutions from South Africa, Germany and India (see research team below), investigates how investments in the energy transition can improve on social equity in diverse rural and urban contexts.

An unjust transition? 

Climate change and rising social inequality are two of the biggest challenges of our time. The ‘energy transition’ from fossil to renewable energy will be a key determinant of “who gets what, when, and how” (Lasswell, 1936). We argue that the infrastructures for renewable energy may, in principle, ameliorate inequalities resulting from carbon economies. However, recent evidence suggests these potentials are not fully exploited. Indeed, it suggests that incumbent interests are rapidly gaining control over infrastructure investments and thereby negatively affecting the social equity agenda. Therefore we argue that an unjust transition is distinctly possible.

The software of policy regimes

ReSET compares four case studies: Germany, India, the Netherlands and South Africa. We analyse how the energy transition can produce more social equity. In each country context we are interested in understanding how the software in the form of policy regimes, determines the flow of investments in the hardware of energy infrastructures. Together with diverse stakeholders, we aim to develop a framework and concrete insights that can inform future policies.

In each country, the project will look at alternative pockets in urban and rural areas where renewable energy development is connected to a social equity agenda. In these ReSET alternatives it looks at different actors - municipalities, entrepreneurs, development banks, social movements, and others - how these actors are enabled and constrained by policy frameworks.

Agents of change 

During our research we aim to build up a community of practice and communicate findings as the project proceeds. In each country we collaborate with stakeholders like citizens cooperatives, municipalities, social movements, investors and entrepreneurs. Special attention is paid to internationally operating development banks, whom we see as key agents of change.