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Legitimating power: Solar energy, metrics and transition politics

Authors: Siddharth Sareen*, University of Bergen
Topics: Energy, Cultural and Political Ecology, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: equitable decarbonisation, energy geographies, accountability, legitimation, solar power, political ecology
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Increasing recognition of the irrefutable urgency to address the global climate challenge is driving mitigation efforts to decarbonise. Countries are setting targets, technological innovation is making renewable energy sources competitive, and fossil fuel actors are leveraging their incumbent privilege and political reach to modulate energy transitions. As techno-economic issues are rapidly resolved in favour of sources such as solar energy, governance puzzles dominate the research frontier. Who makes key decisions about decarbonisation and why, who reaps the consequent benefits and who bears the burden? The setting, Portugal, is tucked away in southwestern Europe, leads on wind and hydro power and recently emerged from financial trouble. Despite Europe’s best solar irradiation, Portugal’s big solar push only kicked off in the late 2010s. In explaining how this unfolded and why, ‘Legitimating power’ investigates the key questions that such ambitious decarbonisation plans must address to simultaneously enhance social equity, drawing inter alia on work for the ENGAGER network on energy poverty. To study the contingencies that determine these outcomes, this piece traces how discrete acts validate specific transition trajectories through discursive, bureaucratic, technocratic and financial practices of legitimation. Combining empirics and perspectives from political ecology and energy geographies, it takes a probing look at energy justice and socio-technical transitions to more sustainable futures where societies can be more low-carbon and equitable.

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