Understanding the heterogeneity of regional energy transitions: opportunities and limitations for regional development

Session organisers

Lars Coenen (University of Melbourne), Teis Hansen (Lund University), Robert Hassink (Kiel University)


Energy transitions (Grubler 2012) can be regarded in the broader framework of the well-researched sustainability transitions (Köhler et al. 2019). They are often theoretically framed in the socio-technical transitions literature around the multi-level perspective and technical innovation systems (Geels 2002). The geography of energy transitions is increasingly taken seriously (Bridge et al. 2013; Calvert 2016; Coenen et al. 2010; Hansen and Coenen 2015; Truffer and Coenen 2012; Truffer et al. 2015)which lead to more research on energy transitions at the local and regional level (Mattes et al. 2015; Yu and Gibbs 2018; Rutherford and Coutard 2014).

However, despite advances, we still have important gaps in our knowledge about regional energy transitions, not least as the spatial organisation of energy systems is rapidly changing in many ways. Firstly, the range, role and responsibility of actors involved in energy production, distribution, innovation and use is expanding significantly due to renewable energy deployment. This rise of renewables has created a more decentralised energy geography, where prosumers and community energy organisations play an increasingly critical role (Seyfang and Haxeltine 2012; Radtke 2016) while incumbent actors have been coerced to re-think and reconfigure their original business models. Secondly, R&D for energy technologies is gradually decentralised, as various new small and medium-sized enterprises enter the market around the world giving rise to Schumpeterian waves of creative destruction, reconfigurations of value chains and emergence of regional energy clusters. Thirdly, energy policy and politics is becoming increasingly complex with a growing role for inter- and supranational actors as well as increased attention for issues such as energy poverty, justice and ‘just transitions’ (Newell and Mulvaney, 2013). However, at the same time, important countertendencies such as the re-municipalisation of the local energy grid in Hamburg (Becker et al. 2015) and general calls for city and regional governments to actively steer and ensure social benefits from infrastructures delivering foundational services (Engelen et al. 2017) are also observed. This requires a fundamental re-think of the ways in which we conceptualize energy innovation, and its geographies, beyond technological innovation but inclusive of grassroot, social and responsible innovation.

For this special session, we therefore invite contributions on regional energy transitions from different academic backgrounds, such as geography, economics, sociology and political science including but not limited to the following topics:

  • the actual drivers of regional energy transition;
  • the impact of regional energy transition in both economic, social and environmental terms;
  • the relative importance of energy technology development and deployment activities in instigating economic development in different regional contexts;
  • the multiple types of actors and innovation that may transform the opportunities offered by the energy transition into regional development in various forms;
  • the potential deficiencies of ongoing transformations in the energy sector;
  • the impact of different varieties of capitalism on regional energy transition;
  • the governance of regional energy transitions across different scales;
  • the potential of energy transition in different regional contexts, such as in old industrial areas (Dawley et al. 2015; Fornahl et al. 2012)


Becker, S., Beveridge, R., & Naumann, M. (2015). Remunicipalization in German cities: contesting neo-liberalism and reimagining urban governance? Space and Polity, 19(1), 76–90.

Bridge, G., Bouzarovski, S., Bradshaw, M., & Eyre, N. (2013). Geographies of energy transition: Space, place and the low-carbon economy. Energy Policy, 53, 331-340.

Calvert, K. (2016). From ‘energy geography’ to ‘energy geographies’ Perspectives on a fertile academic borderland. Progress in Human Geography, 40(1), 105-125.

Coenen, L., Raven, R., & Verbong, G. (2010). Local niche experimentation in energy transitions: A theoretical and empirical exploration of proximity advantages and
disadvantages. Technology in Society, 32(4), 295-302.

Dawley, S., MacKinnon, D., Cumbers, A., & Pike, A. (2015). Policy activism and regional path creation: the promotion of offshore wind in North East England and Scotland. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 8(2), 257-272.

Engelen, E., Froud, J., Johal, S., Salento, A., & Williams, K. (2017). The grounded city: from competitivity to the foundational economy. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 10(3), 407-423.

Fornahl, D., Hassink, R., Klaerding, C., Mossig, I., & Schröder, H. (2012). From the old path of shipbuilding onto the new path of offshore wind energy? The case of northern Germany. European Planning Studies, 20(5), 835-855.

Geels, F. W. (2002). Technological transitions as evolutionary reconfiguration processes: a multi-level perspective and a case-study. Research policy, 31(8-9), 1257-1274.

Grillitsch, M. and Hansen, T. (2018) Green industrial path development in different types of regions. CIRCLE Papers in Innovation Studies, 2018/11.

Grubler, A. (2012). Energy transitions research: Insights and cautionary tales. Energy Policy, 50, 8-16.

Hansen, T., & Coenen, L. (2015). The geography of sustainability transitions: Review, synthesis and reflections on an emergent research field. Environmental innovation and societal transitions, 17, 92-109.

Köhler, J., Geels, F. W., Kern, F., Markard, J., Wieczorek, A., Alkemade, F., … & Hess, D.(2019). An agenda for sustainability transitions research: State of the art and future directions. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions (forthcoming).

MacKinnon, D., Dawley, S., Steen, M., Menzel, M.-P., Karlsen, A., Sommer, P., Hansen, G.H. and Normann, H.E. (2018) Path creation, global production networks and regional development: A comparative international analysis of the offshore wind sector. Progress in Planning.

Mattes, J., Huber, A., & Koehrsen, J. (2015). Energy transitions in small-scale regions–What we can learn from a regional innovation systems perspective. Energy Policy, 78, 255-264.

Newell, P., & Mulvaney, D. (2013). The political economy of the ‘just transition’. The Geographical Journal, 179(2), 132-140.

Radtke, J. (2016). Bürgerenergie in Deutschland; Partizipation zwischen Gemeinwohl und Rendite. Heidelberg: Springer.

Rutherford, J., & Coutard, O. (2014). Urban energy transitions: places, processes and politics of socio-technical change. Urban Studies, 51(7), 1353–1377.

Seyfang, G., Haxeltine, A. (2012). Growing Grassroots Innovations. Exploring the Role of Community-Based Initiatives in Governing Sustainable Energy Transitions. Environment and Planning C, 30 (3), 381–400.

Truffer, B., & Coenen, L. (2012). Environmental innovation and sustainability transitions in regional studies. Regional Studies, 46(1), 1-21.

Truffer, B., Murphy, J. T., & Raven, R. (2015). The geography of sustainability transitions:Contours of an emerging theme. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 17, 63-72.

Yu, Z., & Gibbs, D. (2018). Sustainability transitions and leapfrogging in latecomer cities: the development of solar thermal energy in Dezhou, China. Regional Studies, 52(1), 68-79.


  • Bocconi University


  • Intesa Sanpaolo
UPDATE 10/06/2022: Please find the preliminary program for the parallel sessions here.