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Beyond energy futures : an exploration of sustainability-driven and transition dynamics-driven approaches to guiding socio-technical change Roberts, Kirthi

Abstract

Energy technologies and systems are imperative for the proper functioning of our economies and societies, but due to their growing environmental and social impacts, there appears to be an interest in making a transition toward alternative forms of energy systems. However, making such a transition would involve understanding the complex characteristics of energy technologies, their interdependencies, sustainability impacts and socio-technical contexts, therefore, it calls for an inter-disciplinary approach to such an analysis. This dissertation proposes two approaches to informing future energy and technology policies. The first approach is motivated by the need to improve methods for sustainability assessment. While a variety of tools and methods exist for the assessment of sustainability, there appears to be no systematic approach to their selection and thus the design of sustainability assessments is often driven by convenience, familiarity and availability of tools. Therefore, a framework (Sustainability Assessment Framework) is proposed for a more systematic approach to tool selection and for the design of the next generation of sustainability assessments. The second approach is based on an attempt to understand the dynamics of technological transitions. Much of the literature on technological change focuses on technologies, but the technological transitions literature highlights the importance of thinking about transitions between socio-technical systems. This dissertation suggests that the guidance to socio-technical transitions may not come from choices made between technologies, but instead from choices made about desirable futures. The articulation of a desirable future may then enable compatible technologies currently within niches, to co-evolve and develop inter-dependencies with other compatible technologies and systems, thus initiating a possible socio-technical transition. It is argued that both approaches complement each other in informing energy and technology policy regarding transitions to future energy systems. While the first approach (sustainability-driven) allows us to assess the sustainability of future technologies and systems, the second approach (transition dynamics-driven) informs us about the dynamics of the transition process and urges us to think of transitions in terms of a desired future and its characteristics (i.e. sustainability characteristics). Together the two approaches inform us on how we might think about choosing and guiding a desirable future.

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