Investigating the global renewable energy revolution : a transitions perspective

Muranda, Andy (2020-12)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2020.

Thesis

ENGLISH SUMMARY : Fossil fuels have helped to shape cultural, technological, environmental and economic spaces, which to date have governed human existence. Fundamental to society’s development is the excessive extraction and consumption of the earth’s resources, which has pushed the planet beyond its safe operating threshold. The outcome is a critical socio-ecological crisis; a perilous build-up of carbon dioxide levels (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG). The result is climate change, inequality, loss of biodiversity, food insecurity and environmental degradation. In short, humanity and the planet is faced with a poly-crisis, characterised by an era known as the Anthropocene that implicates human beings as a geological force of nature negatively impacting the planet. The status quo emerged with the first industrial revolution; a development that established fossil fuels as the primary source of energy. While the research bounds itself to the study of CO2 emissions, it is categorically stated that climate change is a complex process that is influenced by many factors and as such should not be viewed solely within a monolithic carbo-centric approach. The other GHGs also act as pollutants that contribute to the crises. This theoretical analysis is conducted for the purposes of understanding the elements that drive energy transitions, and their far-reaching implications. The aim of the study is to investigate if the present approach to climate action is sufficient to mitigate CO2 emissions. This study argues that the renewable energy transition has failed to significantly lower CO2 emissions because the focus of its policies is limited to the energy sector with a strong techno-economic emphasis instead of a broader mix of policies that also address societal issues. The first two research questions put forward are: • What is driving the global RE surge as it seeks to tackle the carbon lock-in? • How is the RE transition reducing fossil fuel dependency and climate risks? The first question addresses the quality of the energy transition by analysing secondary datasets. A process of triangulation acknowledges price, policy and technology to be mostly responsible for the fast-tracked dispersions. However, the second research question finds that the set targets as well as the already installed renewables show no evidence of significant decline in CO2 emissions. The question is addressed by analysing current environmental feedbacks alongside set global climate action targets and other renewable energy policies. It also provides an appraisal of whether or not the measures in place are sufficient to mitigate climatic risks. The third question deals with context. It addresses a relatively unknown theory, referred to as a deep transition, which provides a theoretical framework to further analyse the energy transition by asking: • How is the energy transition associated to the notion of a deep transition? The study is predominantly a qualitative meta-analysis survey with some quantitative elements. The data used is secondary and it includes both qualitative sets in the form of policies, as well as quantitative sets such as pricing, statistics on carbon emission and capital investments for infrastructural builds and new technologies. The approach explores transition, economic, ecological, technological, social and metabolic bodies of literature. It is an epistemological survey of critical factors such as the extent (quantity), pace (quality), and context of the transition. The overall research of narrative reviews, which are they are used to analyse data. Conceptualising and applying the deep transition lens reveals broader societal impacts that transcend energy by influencing all angles from technological to economic, metabolic and social sectors. It also reveals that in spite of demonstrable growth in renewables, the apparent lack of any significant decline in CO2 emissions indicates that a far deeper and broader understanding of the energy transition is required to effectively ensure decarbonisation. Four dynamic theories were employed to investigate the concept of a deep transition, namely Techno-Economic; Global Development Cycles, Socio-Technical and Socio- Metabolic. Bringing the deep transition framework into play, produced the following. There was a declining fossil fuel Energy Return On Investment, which was concurrent with a renewable energy installation within the Techno-Economic Paradigm and Multi Level Plan. Simultaneously there was an energy, communications and mobility investment frenzy. Together these four paradigms marked an energy transition immersed within the far-reaching deep transition. The findings were a shift in the material flows from fossil fuel to renewable energy, which revealed a decline in the carbon footprint but a rise in the materials footprint. Within the Techno-Economic Paradigm there were co-evolutionary interactions between society and the new technology that is accelerating a deep decarbonisation. It was also evident from the Techno-Economic surge that renewables were in the forefront of a greener economy. It was also clear that the transition was part of a broader, smart, digital, integrating system for the information age.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING : Fossielbrandstowwe het die samelewing help vorm en die kulturele, tegnologiese, omgewings- en ekonomiese ruimtes wat tot dusver die menslike bestaan gerig het, help uitkerf. Die oormatige ontginning en verbruik van die aarde se hulpbronne wat as grondslag vir samelewingsontwikkeling dien, het die planeet verby haar veilige funksioneringsdrempel gedryf. Die uitkoms is ’n kritieke sosio-ekologiese krisis wat tot die gevaarlike opbou van koolstofdioksied- (CO2-) vlakke en ander kweekhuisgasse (KHG) gelei het. Die resultaat is klimaatsverandering, ongelykheid, verlies aan biodiversiteit, voedselonsekerheid en omgewingsagteruitgang. Kortom, die mensdom en die planeet word gekonfronteer deur ’n poli-krisis, gekenmerk deur ’n era wat as die Antroposeen bekend staan, en wat die mens as geologiese natuurkrag met ’n negatiewe invloed op die planeet impliseer. Die huidige status quo is die resultaat van die eerste industriële revolusie; ’n ontwikkeling wat fossielbrandstowwe as die hoofbron van energie gevestig het. Hierdie teoretiese ontleding word uitgevoer met die oog op insig in die samestellende elemente wat energie-oorgange en hul verreikende implikasies dryf. Die doel van hierdie studie is om te bepaal of die huidige benadering tot klimaataksie voldoende is om CO2-uitlatings te verminder. Dié gemengde metode-benadering ondersoek die oorgangs-, ekonomiese, ekologiese, tegnologiese, sosiale en metaboliese korpus van literatuur. Dit is ’n epistemologiese oorsig van kritieke faktore, soos die omvang (kwantiteit), tempo (kwaliteit) en konteks van die oorgang. Hierdie navorsing voer aan dat die oorgang na hernubare energie (HE) nie daarin kon slaag om die CO2-uitlatings noemenswaardig te verminder nie. Dit is omdat die fokus van die energie-oorgangsbeleide beperk is tot die energiesektor, met ’n sterk tegno-ekonomiese klem, in plaas van ’n groter mengsel van beleide wat saamweef om wyer samelewingskwessies aan te roer. Die eerste twee navorsingsvrae wat aangebied word, is: • Wat dryf die wêreldwye oplewing in HE namate dit poog om die koolstofinperking aan te spreek? • Dra die HE-oorgang daartoe by om die afhanklikheid van fossielbrandstof en klimaatsrisiko’s te verminder? Die eerste vraag roer die kwaliteit van die energie-oorgang deur ’n ontleding van die sekondêre datastelle aan. Deur ’n proses van triangulasie word bevestig dat prys, beleid en tegnologie grootliks vir die versnelde verspreidings verantwoordelik is. Die tweede navorsingsvraag bevind egter dat die gestelde teikens, sowel as die reeds gevestigde hernubare energie, geen bewyse van ’n noemenswaardige afname in CO2-uitlatings toon nie. Die vraag word aangepak deur die huidige omgewingsterugvoere, tesame met die gestelde globale klimaataksie-teikens, sowel as ander beleide oor hernubare energie, te ontleed. Dit bied ook ’n taksering om te bepaal of die maatreëls wat getref is voldoende is om klimaatsrisikos te verminder, of nie. Die derde vraag handel oor konteks. Dit pak ’n relatief onbekende teorie aan wat as ’n ‘diep oorgang’ bekend staan, en bied ’n teoretiese raamwerk vir die verdere ontleding van die energie-oorgang deur te vra: • Kan die energie-oorgang beter verstaan word as deel van ’n diep oorgang? Deur die konseptualisering en toepassing van ’n ‘diepoorgang’ -lens word breër samelewingsinvloede onthul en die grense van energie oorskry deurdat alle sektore, ingesluit die tegnologiese, ekonomiese, metaboliese en sosiale sektore, beïnvloed word. Dit word ook duidelik dat, ten spyte van die bewese groei in hernubare energie, die skynbare gebrek aan enige noemenswaardige afname in CO2-uitlatings, ’n veel dieper en wyer insig in die energie-oorgang verlang, ten einde effektiewe dekarbonisasie (ontkoling) te verseker.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/109344
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