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The Slow Search for Solutions: Lessons from Historical Energy Transitions by Sector and Service

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  • Roger Fouquet

Abstract

This paper reviews past energy transitions by sector and service to identify features that may be useful for anticipating future transitions. As the United Kingdom was the first to make the transition from traditional energy sources to fossil fuel, its experiences may offer a unique perspective of relevance for a possible transition to a low carbon economy. Although often considered a single event, the transition from traditional energy sources to fossil fuels was complex and involved numerous services and sectors at different times between 1500 and 1920.The main drivers for the energy transitions were the opportunity to produce cheaper or better energy services. In a majority of cases, the successful new energy source or technology provided the same service (i.e. heating, power, transport or light) with superior or additional characteristics (e.g. easier, cleaner or more flexible to use). The existence of a niche market willing to pay more for these characteristics enabled the new energy source and technology to be refined gradually until they could compete with the incumbent energy source. Nevertheless, this implied that, on average, the whole innovation chain took more than one hundred years and the diffusion phase nearly fifty years. In the same way, since low-carbon energy sources and technologies are valued for their low climate impact, they will be able to develop gradually until they can compete with fossil fuels. However, for a transition to take place, low carbon energy sources and technologies will have to provide cheaper energy services – possibly helped by carbon taxes or tradable permit schemes. And, based on past experiences, a complete transition to a low carbon economy is likely to be very slow.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by BC3 in its series Working Papers with number 2010-05.

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Date of creation: Apr 2010
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Publication status: Published
Handle: RePEc:bcc:wpaper:2010-05

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Keywords: energy transition; low carbon economy; technological innovation and diffusion;

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References

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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Sgouris Sgouridis & Denes Csala, 2014. "A Framework for Defining Sustainable Energy Transitions: Principles, Dynamics, and Implications," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 6(5), pages 2601-2622, May.
  2. Roger Fouquet, 2013. "Long Run Demand for Energy Services: the Role of Economic and Technological Development," Working Papers 2013-03, BC3.
  3. Roger Fouquet & Peter J.G. Pearson, 2012. "The Long Run Demand for Lighting:Elasticities and Rebound Effects in Different Phases of Economic Development," Economics of Energy & Environmental Policy, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 1).
  4. Timothy J. Foxon & Jonathan K�hler & Jonathan Michie & Christine Oughton, 2013. "Towards a new complexity economics for sustainability," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 37(1), pages 187-208.
  5. Pablo Salas, 2013. "Literature Review of Energy-Economics Models, Regarding Technological Change and Uncertainty," 4CMR Working Paper Series 003, University of Cambridge, Department of Land Economy, Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research.
  6. Wang, Chengchao & Yang, Yusheng & Zhang, Yaoqi, 2012. "Rural household livelihood change, fuelwood substitution, and hilly ecosystem restoration: Evidence from China," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 16(5), pages 2475-2482.
  7. Martin de Wit & Matthew Kuperus Heun & Douglas J Crookes, 2013. "An overview of salient factors, relationships and values to support integrated energy-economic systems dynamic modelling," Working Papers 02/2013, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  8. C. Wilson & A. Grubler & N. Bauer & V. Krey & K. Riahi, 2013. "Future capacity growth of energy technologies: are scenarios consistent with historical evidence?," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 118(2), pages 381-395, May.
  9. Fouquet, Roger, 2012. "The demand for environmental quality in driving transitions to low-polluting energy sources," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 138-149.
  10. Stokes, Leah C., 2013. "The politics of renewable energy policies: The case of feed-in tariffs in Ontario, Canada," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 490-500.
  11. Pickard, William F., 2013. "Transporting the terajoules: Efficient energy distribution in a post-carbon world," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 51-61.
  12. Fouquet, Roger, 2012. "Trends in income and price elasticities of transport demand (1850–2010)," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 62-71.
  13. Marina Fischer-Kowalski & Daniel Hausknost, 2014. "Large scale societal transitions in the past," WWWforEurope Working Papers series 55, WWWforEurope.
  14. Michel Damian, 2012. "Repenser l'économie du changement climatique," Post-Print halshs-00709929, HAL.
  15. Solomon, Barry D. & Krishna, Karthik, 2011. "The coming sustainable energy transition: History, strategies, and outlook," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(11), pages 7422-7431.

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