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The Technopolitics of Energy Transitions: Infrastructure, Fixed Capital, and the Logic of Japan’s Grid Enclosures

Authors: Hudson Spivey*, UCLA
Topics: Energy, Cultural and Political Ecology, Economic Geography
Keywords: Political Ecology, Renewable Energy, Energy Transitions, Infrastructure
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This article examines recent controversies in Japan regarding access to the electricity grid by renewable energy producers to think through the possibilities of a political ecology of socio-technical systems. Beginning in summer 2016, regional power utilities across Japan began denying applications from renewable energy producers seeking access to the regional grid because it was “at capacity.” Questions about what constituted “capacity,” how and by whom capacity was determined, and what energy sources were given preferential access to the grid were significant topics of controversy among renewables investors, solar advocates, power utility administrators, and central government bureaucrats. On days with excess sun or wind and low power demand, renewables producers have also been denied access to maintain grid stability. Bringing together literature on the geographical political economy of infrastructure and the material politics of socio-technical systems, this article examines the grid as a form of fixed capital investment with its own intrinsic materiality that shapes the trajectories of renewable energy transitions. It draws on firsthand interviews with central government policymakers, utility representatives, and renewables advocates to analyze conflicts over grid access and enclosure in Japan. While most studies on the role of enclosure and dispossession in the roll-out of renewable energy have focused on land as the object being enclosed, this article examines the enclosure of infrastructure as a technopolitical strategy to prevent the devaluation of fixed capital investments in conventional forms of energy.

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