‘Opening up’ energy transitions research for development
in Science and the politics of openness

The term ‘energy transition’ is used by research and policy communities seeking tools and concepts to study and explain the transformation to more sustainable energy systems. A limitation of the transitions literature is that much of it relates to the experience of research based in industrialized countries. This prompts the question of how well do transitions concepts and frameworks translate when applied in developing contexts where decarbonizing the energy system may not be the core objective? This chapter takes the position that the absent or naïve conceptualizations of the dominant transitions frameworks stem from a neglect of issues of distributive and procedural justice, that points to the need to identify alternative ways of doing transitions research, including in development contexts, that are more sensitive to the public and social priorities of transitioning communities. The author draws on her experience as part of an interdisciplinary team of researchers who are exploring ways of co-designing small-scale, off-grid solar energy systems in rural Kenya and Bangladesh through iterative community engagement. The Solar Nano-Grids (SONG) project’s core objective is novel in that it is taking the energy transitions concept of niche experimentation and applying it in practice to open up transitions research through co-design. Attention to the principles of distributive justice was fundamental to addressing deficits related to the role of women and youth in co-designing energy systems sensitive to different intra- and intergenerational priorities and aspirations. While the lens of procedural justice spotlighted the heightened politics of transitions for development and the need for opportunities that are both inclusive and interactive so that community members can participate in the development, implementation and governance of their own energy services.

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