Political Considerations of a Renewable Energy Strategy

Friday, 14 February 2014
Regency A (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Ronnie Lipschutz , University of California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA
What are the political, social and economic implications of a transition to an energy system based heavily on renewable sources, especially microgrids? Would the advent of community-scale renewable energy microgrids change the current institutional organization of energy and electricity supply in this country? How would such microgrids be organized?  How might they fit into a broader national energy strategy (were one ever to be developed)? These are questions that have been on the table since at least the 1970s, generating a broad range of responses from a broad range of respondents.  Almost 40 years ago, Amory Lovins argued that renewables would be “more democratic” by avoiding the centralization and authoritarian tendencies associated with nuclear power, in particular.  Others, such as Langdon Winner, pointed out that it was not the technology that determined politics but, rather, politics that shaped technology. Many, of course, simply ignore such matters.   With hindsight, it is possible to tease out how technology and social factors are co-constitutive of large-scale systems, such as is found in electricity production and distribution.

In this presentation, I suggest that the sociological and political effects of renewable energy microgrids need to be considered at several different scales:  the community, the macrogrid, and the broader society.  I propose that, if we are to actually pursue an energy strategy based on such microgrids, it is very important to first understand the institutional framework within which this would take place and only then focus on technological systems and issues.