Visions of Energy Futures: Imagining and Innovating Low-Carbon Transitions, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Visions of Energy Futures

Imagining and Innovating Low-Carbon Transitions, 1st Edition

By Benjamin K. Sovacool


256 pages | 23 B/W Illus.

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This book examines the visions, fantasies, frames, discourses, imaginaries, and expectations associated with six state-of-the-art energy systems—nuclear power, hydrogen fuel cells, shale gas, clean coal, smart meters, and electric vehicles—playing a key role in current deliberations about low-carbon energy supply and use. 

Visions of Energy Futures: Imagining and Innovating Low-Carbon Transitions unveils what the future of energy systems could look like, and how their meanings are produced, often alongside moments of contestation.  Theoretically, it analyzes these technological case studies with emerging concepts from various disciplines: utopianism (history of technology), symbolic convergence (communication studies), technological frames (social construction of technology), discursive coalitions (discourse analysis and linguistics), sociotechnical imaginaries (science and technology studies), and the sociology of expectations (innovation studies, future studies). It draws from these cases to create a synthetic set of dichotomies and frameworks for energy futures based on original data collected across two global epistemic communities— nuclear physicists and hydrogen engineers—and experts in Eastern Europe and the Nordic region, stakeholders in South Africa, and newspapers in the United Kingdom. This book is motivated by the premise that tackling climate change via low-carbon energy systems and practices is one of the most significant challenges of the twenty-first century, and that success will require not only new energy technologies, but also new ways of understanding language, visions, and discursive politics. The discursive creation of the energy systems of tomorrow are propagated in polity, hoping to be realized as the material fact of the future, but processed in conflicting ways with underlying tensions as to how contemporary societies ought to be ordered.

This book will be essential reading for students and scholars of energy policy, energy and environment, and technology assessment.


"Visions, imaginaries, and fictional expectations are central for an understanding of our energy futures, determining what is desirable and undesirable, achievable or impossible. Energy visions should feature centrally in our research and policy mixes, and I welcome Visions of Energy Futures for ambitiously pushing such an agenda forward." -- Maarten Hajer, Professor of Urban Futures, Utrecht University, The Netherlands

"Visions, discourses and framings of low-carbon innovations shape meanings and legitimacy that, in turn, influence support from various actors, including policymakers and funders. Contributing to debates about the performative roles of visions, Benjamin Sovacool’s new book draws important lessons from six case studies across various countries and domains, which illuminate how future energy systems are affected by discursive struggles at present. Important reading for students and scholars alike." -- Frank Geels, Professor of System Innovation, University of Manchester, UK

"Technology is rooted in the future. Hence, the development and use of low-carbon energy systems requires fundamental changes in how the future is imagined. Benjamin Sovacool elegantly explores and explains how imaginations of the future could feed, guide and inspire technological innovations in six state-of-the-art energy systems. This book provides an important and timely contribution to the quest of energy transitions." -- Harro van Lente, Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Maastricht University, The Netherlands

Table of Contents

    List of Figures

    List of Tables

    About the Author


    1. Introduction: Visions and futures in the study of low-carbon energy systems
    2. Technological utopianism: Small modular reactors and the physics community
    3. Symbolic convergence: Hydrogen fuel cells and the engineering community
    4. Technological frames: The interpretive flexibility of shale gas in Eastern Europe
    5. Discursive coalitions: Contesting clean coal in South Africa
    6. Sociotechnical imaginaries: Smart meters and the public in the United Kingdom
    7. Expectations: Electric mobility and experts in the Nordic region
    8. Conclusion: Dimensions, dichotomies and frameworks for energy futures


About the Author

Benjamin K. Sovacool is Professor of Energy Policy at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the School of Business, Management, and Economics, University of Sussex, UK. He is also Professor of Business & Social Sciences at Aarhus University in Denmark, where he also directs the Centre on Energy Technologies.

About the Series

Routledge Studies in Energy Transitions

Considerable interest exists today in energy transitions. Whether one looks at diverse efforts to decarbonize, or strategies to improve the access levels, security and innovation in energy systems, one finds that change in energy systems is a prime priority.

Routledge Studies in Energy Transitions aims to advance the thinking which underlies these efforts. The series connects distinct lines of inquiry from planning and policy, engineering and the natural sciences, history of technology, STS, and management. In doing so, it provides primary references that function like a set of international, technical meetings. Single and co-authored monographs are welcome, as well as edited volumes relating to themes, like resilience and system risk.

Key focus areas: Technology change and fuel substitution, centralized-decentralized shifts, new business models and market redesign, innovation systems, governance levers/approaches or economics in transitions, etc. Writing on different types of energy transitions is encouraged. 

Dr. Kathleen Araújo is the Director of the Energy Policy Institute with the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, a consortium of public universities, Idaho National Laboratory, and industry. She is also an Associate Professor in the School of Public Service at Boise State University, where she specializes in policy and innovation systems associated with energy transitions and industrial development.

If you are interested in submitting a proposal for this series, please contact Annabelle Harris, Editor for Environment and Sustainability: [email protected]

Series Advisory Board

Morgan Bazilian, Columbia University, Center for Global Energy Policy (US)

Thomas Birkland, North Carolina State University (US)

Aleh Cherp, Central European University (CEU, Budapest) and Lund University

Mohamed El-Ashry, UN Foundation

Jose Goldemberg, Universidade de Sao Paolo (Brasil) and UN Development Program, World Energy Assessment

Michael Howlett, Simon Fraser University (Canada)

Jon Ingimarsson, Landsvirkjun, National Power Company (Iceland)

Michael Jefferson, ESCP Europe Business School

Jessica Jewell, IIASA (Austria)

Florian Kern, University of Sussex, Science Policy Research Unit and Sussex Energy Group (United Kingdom)

Derk Loorbach, DRIFT (Netherlands)

Jochen Markard, ETH (Switzerland)

Nabojsa Nakicenovic, IIASA (Austria)

Martin Pasqualetti, Arizona State University, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning (US)

Mark Radka, UN Environment Programme, Energy, Climate, and Technology

Rob Raven, Utrecht University (Netherlands)

Roberto Schaeffer, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Energy Planning Program, COPPE (Brasil)

Miranda Schreurs, Technische Universität Mūnchen, Bavarian School of Public Policy (Germany)

Vaclav Smil, University of Manitoba and Royal Society of Canada (Canada)

Benjamin Sovacool, Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex, UK

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / Environmental Policy
SCIENCE / Energy
TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING / Power Resources / General