• Eirini Sampson

The energy transition and energy justice

Aretina has previously spoken about energy democracy and the Greek energy communities, in her interview with Chris Vrettos in December. It seems rare that the negative side-effects of sustainable switches, or the green transition in broader terms, are ever questioned within the discourse. Indeed, critics and deniers have blown concepts out of proportion alongside their disbelief of climate change existing in the first place; however, this is not to say that there are not negative results from a messy energy transition, such as the one we are experiencing at the moment. The energy transition discourse has often been tainted by Euro-centric ideas of what sustainability is and how the green transition should look. We have seen how this has the potential to result in unequal and disproportionate inequalities between states as seen through the EU’s proposed CBAM. Such inequalities are not exclusively borne from policies as specific as a carbon tax. Instead, these may be inherent in any broader concept that has come to define the current policy trajectory, including the energy transition.


The concept of energy justice has only recently been coined, and has been borne out by similar concepts such as climate and environmental justice. Some perceive these to be the same, however, they are not as energy justice is specific to the energy transition and its implications. Indeed the concept is not as popular as its climate-counterparts, perhaps due to its young age. Other, related, concepts such as energy democracy which has gained traction due to the rise of energy communities, still remains undefined in the literature. This disharmonisation in energy-related human-centric matters is quite telling in the priorities of policy-making in the energy sector, as well as the potential invisibilities that can arise as a result of poor decision-making.


So, what is energy justice anyway?


According to the literature, energy justice comprises three main parts: distributive justice, recognition justice and procedural justice. These elements of energy justice encompass different consumer/people-centric elements that should be incorporated in energy-related decision-making. In other words, it relates to the incorporation of a rights-based approach in energy policy. It has been argued that the concept relates to the fair distribution of the costs and benefits of energy systems.


Energy justice is traditionally associated with sustainable energy, with many websites calling on people to vote solar, or showing where dirty sources of energy have shifted to sustainable energy. Indeed, there have been indicators that show the improved levels of recognition, distribution and procedural justice. This is due to the nature of renewable energy sources that are, well… renewable and non-depletable. Additionally, renewable energy sources such as PVs can be used in small scale projects by individuals, prosumers or energy communities.


Indeed, as Chris explained to us back in December, energy communities, and organised prosumerism in general have the potential to enhance energy democracy - the procedural counterpart of energy justice - in predominantly local levels. This leads to lower energy costs for members, as well as the benefits and independence related to decentralised energy production. This has other, indirect benefits, such as the related knowledge sharing that occurs within communities, and is arguably a good example of the potentially energy-just nature that renewable energy sources can bring in social workings.


Injustices

The Guardian Europe’s coal legacy – in pictures 7 September 2021

However, other injustices arise in relation to this transition which are rarely accounted for. In Europe, specifically, Germany, the mass and quick energy transition has led to several groups of individuals from rural areas being sacked from their jobs in nuclear power-plants without prospects of re-training due to their age. In fact, in areas where coal-mining created the main source of income for whole villages, a swift shift to clean energy leaves large groups of people in vulnerable positions. With relation to energy communities, as Chris commented in his interview, women are largely excluded from decision-making and make a small part of energy communities as a whole, resulting in their under-representation and hence the undermined effect of energy democracy, something that communities are currently working on.


Little research on the energy transition and energy justice is focused on developing nations. Yenneti and Day’s research illustrates the ways that benefits of renewable energy tend to gather at regional and national levels, while local communities are faced with the adverse consequences of the transition. Profitable sectors of the community economy were able to take advantage of opportunities that arose, while small farmers suffered the most from loss of land resources.


This reveals that it is significant to consider the potential inequalities and injustices that may arise as a result of the energy transition. It is often easy for such to become invisible in light of the benefits that clean energy bears in relation to climate change mitigation, which seems to be the reason why decision-makers have often relied on quick and sometimes negligible energy transition policies.