Final PhD Seminar: Marie Byskov Lindberg

In this final seminar Marie B. Lindberg will present her thesis on decarbonization pathways and system reconfiguration of the European electricity sector.

Thesis title

Decarbonization pathways and system reconfiguration of the European electricity sector. Policy mixes and market design for transformative change.

Project

This PhD thesis has been motivated by the quest to understand the implications of ambitious climate policy targets for the electricity sector. Due to urgent calls to reduce GHG emissions, decarbonization of the energy sector is a key task for the EU. Analyses show that in order to stay below 1.5C, the energy sector needs to fully decarbonize by 2050. Since the electricity sector is one of the easiest to decarbonize, emissions reduction in this individual sector must happen even faster.

This thesis is a study of key actors, policies, decarbonization pathways and system reconfiguration associated with the ongoing energy transition in Europe. The thesis is interested in the role of politics within sustainability transitions and assesses the policy preferences of key actors within the socio-technical system (i.e. the electricity sector). Moreover, it assesses current policies in the EU’s policy mix, and how they steer and regulate the energy transition onto a specific transition pathway.

Because of the different characteristic of renewable energy sources compared to fossil electricity production, the configuration of the electricity sector must change in order to accommodate for increasing shares of renewable energy production. This implies large changes within the current structure of key components of the electricity system, including electricity grids, system operation and users. This thesis focuses on system change regarding grids configuration and system operation. Finally, the thesis assesses how system (re)configuration also has implications for the directionality of a transition.  

The thesis assesses the energy transition during a very interesting period. This is the period when renewable energy technologies have become increasingly competitive and reached higher market shares. Within the transitions literature, this denoted as “the third phase of the transition”, also called diffusion or acceleration phase. Theoretically, the thesis assesses the implications of transition policies and system reconfiguration in the third phase of a sustainability transition.

Results

The PhD provides several findings as to the role of policies, actor preferences and system configuration in the thirds phase of the European energy transition.

One finding is that the extant policy mix for decarbonizing the electricity sector in the EU is characterized by a tension between different policy approaches. This is illustrated through the assessment of Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and the Renewable Energy Directive, two key policies for the energy transition in Europe. The Renewable Energy Directive comply with principles of technology development support by means of niche protection and nurturing, advocated by innovation and transition scholars. The Emissions Trading Scheme is a cap-and-trade policy, which prioritizes cost-efficiency and argue that this ensures that the costs of climate action are minimized. This is typically encouraged by economists. The thesis finds that the preferences of key actors regarding these two policies have changed along with the advancement of the European energy transition into its third phase.

As to the directionality of the energy transition, the thesis identifies the dichotomy between increasing decentralization or continued centralization as a prevalent tension within the electricity system. This is true both for the preferences of key actors and for the policies in the EU’s electricity policy mix. A key finding is that there is more disagreement about the direction of the energy transition than about whether it should take place at all. In other words: the majority of key actors within EU energy policy support the transition, but disagree about what should be the main policies to drive the transition, and whether it should pursue continued centralization or more decentralized configurations.

Finally, the thesis makes a contribution to the literature on system configuration of socio-technical systems. It finds that assessments of decarbonization pathways within a particular sector need to consider the different components of the system and assess how their configuration relate to each other. For the electricity sector, this means that there might be different configurations for the production, grids, system operation and user components of the system. In order to succeed with the energy transition, consistency between the different system components should be an overall objective for policy makers and actors involved.

Supervisors

  • Markus Bugge
  • Elin Lerum Boasson

Marie B. Lindberg

Marie B. Lindberg is a PhD Research Fellow at the TIK Centre. This seminar marks the final evaluation prior to submission of her dissertation. 

The seminar is open to everyone, and the manuscript is available upon request

Published Dec. 11, 2019 1:21 PM - Last modified Dec. 12, 2019 10:33 AM