Energy policy, renewables and institutions

Why are some countries more successful, more able and more willing to phase in renewable energy than others? Over the past decade worldwide investments in renewable energy has increased six-fold and annual installed capacity has for the past 15 years typically increased by 20% or more for both wind power and solar power. It is however also becoming ever clearer that there are clouds on the horizon. In 2012, investments dropped for the first time in over a decade. The shale gas revolution in the US has reduced the gas price and increased the supply of gas to such an extent that in some countries renewables now seems like a pretty expensive alternative in comparison. But success also carries a cost. A number of countries have been successful within renewables to such an extent that the increased capacity is now producing major strains on an aging and inflexible grid network. And a number of countries have also phased in renewables to such an extent that subsidies are now becoming quite expensive, taking a toll on the economy. Germany for instance spent roughly €20 billion subsidizing renewable energy last year. Especially in a European economy characterized by recession in many countries, spending money on expanding already expensive subsidy regimes for renewable energy meets with political resistance. At the same time, a number of countries have very ambitious climate goals, and emissions-free electricity production, through the implementation of renewable technology is one of the most popular ways in which countries are trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This working group recognizes that the deployment of renewable energy and the energy transition that has to take place for our energy system to eventually become fossil-free is an undertaking that combines the technological, the economic and the political. Actual renewable energy technologies are obviously a necessary requirement for such a transition, but economic constraints and political constraints are often equally important. Thus, this working group aims to contribute to our understanding of energy policy, in particular renewable energy policy. What are the (political, economic, institutional) forces that shape energy policy, why have some countries been more successful than others, what are the drivers and bottlenecks that stimulate or hamper the growth of renewables, and so on. The relevance of an institutional focus is obvious. Institutions constitute the rules of the game. They provide incentive structures and they constitute the possibility-space for what is politically and economically viable and what is patently not. And they vary between countries. We often take institutions for granted, but energy policy is heavily institutionalized and renewable energy actors in particular are actors that populate an area that is already heavily dominated by fossil fuel actors, actors that have had decades to influence and shape the institutional and political frameworks that they have to grow within. This often presents difficult challenges, but challenges that vary from country to country, and challenges that we would like to encourage contributions on. The working group is open for disciplines across the fields of social science and welcomes both empirical and theoretical contributions.


Espen Moe, Department of Sociology and Political Science, NTNU


List of participants