Empowering energy policy

This chapter has sketched some generic challenges confronting attempts to transform energy systems into sustainable forms. A number of features were suggested. The first was the technocratic nature of energy policy: it tends to be a backwater political issue except when in trouble, when more diverse actors, including political leaders, enter the fray, each with their own rationales, priorities, and capabilities. Second, the current interest in a transition to sustainable energy systems is confronting energy governance developed with a different purpose in mind. That earlier purpose was the privatisation and liberalisation of a nationalised and highly centralised energy system. Post-privatisation energy governance has run the energy system competitively and with greater economic efficiency, but has not sought to radically restructure the system along more sustainable lines in terms of technologies, infrastructures or energy behaviours.

Sustainable energy governance has to rethink and reform these inherited governance arrangements and the energy system. The case of governing the development of renewable energy systems revealed some of the complexities involved in terms of aligning different logics, actors, interests, skills, resources, institutions, energy practices, and technological developments. Sustainable energy governance must navigate this new territory and find common ground. Resources, whether economic, intellectual, organisational, political, or technological, will need redirecting and redistributing. Difficult political battles lie ahead. Obviously, these complexities, married to the significance of legitimacy for coordinating responses, can appear in tension with the sense of urgency currently attending energy and climate policy.

The purpose here has been to consider some generic challenges confronting all such initiatives. These generic challenges were identified as: the realisation of a coherent and widely shared framing of the sustainable energy problem, the significance of resource interdepen-dencies between actors needed to deliver change, more sophisticated approaches to energy leadership, accountability that is rarely clear-cut, and a mature attitude to experimentation and failure.

As later chapters indicate, there is no shortage of ideas, initiatives, and activities exploring what a sustainable energy system might involve. And, just like this chapter's contribution, there is plenty of argument about how to achieve it. Sustainable energy governance needs much greater political support if it is to negotiate all these activities. This suggests more interventionist government in energy policy, but recognising the complex interdependencies that determine policy success and failure, and exercising authority with humility and a keen sense of the legitimate. Energy policy, as analysed in this chapter, must consequently be developed in such a way that it nurtures authoritative legitimacy, the capacity to align disparate interests around clearly articulated goals, and a technical proficiency in better enabling the many people who currently struggle to exercise leadership in sustainable energy. In other words, the new energy governance must empower these sustain-ability leaders from the bottom-up.

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