Socio-ecological transitions in the energy system: the local government view
The energy sector is the foremost leverage to bring forward transitions towards sustainability, since a central aspect of climate change relates to CO2 emissions, energy use, and global warming. This chapter describes, analyses, and discusses its role in the socio-ecological transition of European cities. As a main system in urban contexts, the energy system is highly significant for achieving sustainability goals (Jonathan Rutherford and Olivier Coutard 2014). On a technical level, this is achieved by actively changing the means of energy production to renewable ones and by passively increasing the efficiency of either the energy production or the energy consumption (e.g. substituting coal with gas, installing housing insulation, etc.). Henrik Lund points out that, in a more simplified grouping, “three major technological changes: energy savings on the demand side, . . . efficiency improvements in the energy production, . .. and replacement of fossil fuels by various sources of renewable energy” (Lund 2007, 912) are undertaken. Thus, this field gives way to several, heterogeneous movements towards a socio-ecological transition in urban fields. Yet, on several occasions, the research shows that especially greater energy efficiency can provoke rebound effects ( Jeroen van den Bergh and Miklos Antal 2014). Increasing technological efficiency reduces the per unit price, and thus the gained advantage is wiped out due to increased (cheaper) consumption (Lorna A. Greening, David L. Greene, and Carmen Difiglio 2000). Others conclude (in this case, for Norway) “that efficiency gains have interesting, nonintuitive, and maybe provocative impacts on energy consumption and carbon emissions” (Sverre Grepperud and Ingeborg Rasmussen 2004, 279). On an individual consumption scale as well as on an economic and industry scale, this rebound effect is measurable (Horace Herring and Steve Sorrell 2009), but results on macro levels are also contested (cf. Lee Schipper and Michael Grubb 2000).