Energy Transitions: Speeds, Characteristics, and the Benefits of Granularity
Energy system challenges require a rapid and far-reaching transition. Historical energy transitions have been both fast and slow. Important determinants of transition speeds include: (1) technology characteristics, e.g., whether a technology is a ready substitute for an incumbent; (2) adoption environments, e.g., whether a technology diffuses into competitive markets; (3) system interactions, e.g., whether a technology is strongly interdependent with other technologies and infrastructures. Disentangling these determinants of transition speed helps interpret historical evidence on energy transitions to inform both policymaking on accelerated low-carbon innovation and modelling analysis of future energy transitions. Granular technologies - small scale, divisible, low unit cost - offer a series of potential benefits for rapid energy transitions. Novel analysis of historical data shows that granularity enables faster and less risky diffusion outcomes with a larger potential for systems transformation and benefits more equitably distributed.
Charlie Wilson is a Reader in Energy and Climate Change at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia (UK), and a Visiting Research Scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). His research interests lie at the intersection between innovation, behaviour and policy in the field of energy and climate change mitigation. He has worked at both a systems level, looking at long-run historical and future transitions, and at a micro level, looking at pro-environmental behaviour and decision making.