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The Materialities of the Energy Transition in Mountain Regions: for a Critical Approach

Call for papers: Deadlines : 15 October 2020 (abstract) and 1 March 2020 (full article). Guest editor : Marie Forget, Lecturer in geography, laboratoire EDYTEM, Université Savoie Mont Blanc, (marie.forget@univ-smb.fr). Silvina Carrizo, Research Director, CONICET, Université Nationale de La Plata, Argentine (silcarrizo@yahoo.com) et Vincent Bos, post-doctoral student, laboratoire EDYTEM, Université Savoie Mont Blanc, (vincent.bos@univ-smb.fr). Issue Coordinator for JAR/GA : Sylvie Duvillard Université Grenoble Alpes, sylvie.duvillard@univ-grenoble-alpes.fr.

Brief

Both paradigm and process, the energy transition describes the shift from fossil-fuel based energy systems to more sustainable systems based on renewable energies. Changes to regulatory frameworks and new ways of organizing energy grids are enabling energy efficiency and renewable energies initiatives to find their place, at various scales, via different modes of consumption (on-grid, off-grid), and alongside efforts to improve energy conservation. At the same time, this evolution is reshaping relationships between actors. According to theories of the Anthropocene (Bonneuil, 2015; Crutzen, 2001; Steffen et al., 2018) and the Capitalocene (Malm, 2017; Moore, 2017a, 2017b), the global energy transition is a “vital” response to the urgent need for global change.

Examining energy transitions from a critical materiality perspective involves (1) considering the materials needed to produce the technologies on which transitions are based, (2) assessing the materiality of localized resources, and (3) analyzing energy infrastructures (grids, power plants, etc.). Here, the notion of materiality refers to the complex links between the material dimensions of socio-economic systems and the socio-environmental system. It is a critical perspective in that it explores the ethics of energy production, taking into account the availability of materials and resources, together with new consumption behaviors and new ways of operating in a world where environmental problems have made these issues urgent (High & Smith, 2019; Servigne & Stevens, 2015).

Goals

This call for papers invites scholars to explore the materiality of the energy transition in the case of mountain territories. Because mountain areas are particularly sensitive, or even vulnerable, to the effects of global change and, at the same time, idealized “natural” spaces that must be preserved, they are the focus of numerous energy transition initiatives. The signification of mountain environments also shapes their inhabitants’ relationships with the environment; relationships that determine, promote, or impede the implementation of energy transitions by making it possible for more ideological motivations to supersede economic considerations. Development in these territories, constrained by their relief and their geographical configuration, also calls into question the logic of grid-based energy projects by showing the capabilities of off-grid initiatives in isolated areas, which are veritable test beds for assessing new ways of producing and using energy. In this respect, mountain huts are particularly interesting places for testing innovative consumption practices and self-generation methods.

But mountain territories are also repositories of the minerals, metals and rare earth elements required for new energy technologies (solar panels, wind turbines, smart grids, batteries etc.), whose extraction to serve the needs of other territories inevitably has implications in terms of social break-up, “denaturing” indigenous landscapes, and environmental irreversibility. On the other hand, mountain territories possess globally important, non-conventional energy resources (water, solar radiation, geothermal energy, etc.), which make them both potential suppliers of renewable energies and ideal territories for implementing the energy transition. Exploiting these resources necessarily impacts, positively and/or negatively, the source territory. Hence, studying mountain regions also involves examining highly publicized and easily ideologized societal issues, while taking into account the diversity of situations and the problems affecting different mountain contexts (geographical configuration, peripheral location, forms of development, population density, remoteness, connections etc.) in order to consider ambient discourses from a critical perspective.

The materiality of the energy transition, which is subject to multifarious power relations, has given new importance to mountain territories. The issue here is the environmental value of mountain areas – Are they sources of commodities needed for the transition? Are they repositories of biodiversity that should be set aside from the commercial sphere? Should they be open to economic exploitation? – and the need to take into account divergences and convergences between the Global North and Global South. Consequently, it is also possible to analyze the spatial scales of energy transitions in terms of (1) the development, adoption, and implications of innovations with respect to their material requirements; (2) power relations (including North-South); and (3) political reconfigurations.

Without being exclusive, this call for papers invites contributions on the following three dimensions of materiality:

  1. Resources: New technologies can feed “green” economic growth, a concept that can itself be seen as one of the transition’s contradictions. On the environmental, social, and political levels, implementing technologies that can be polluting and require extractive resources can both recast power relations and reinforce existing inequalities. Moreover, the notion of “green growth” does not challenge the capitalist paradigm, which is built on ever-greater consumption of “high-tech” goods and services. The resulting increase in the need for materials (Bridge et al. 2013; IPCC, 2014, Child et al. 2018) in turn reshapes the extraction sector (Addison, 2018). The development of energy storage systems clearly illustrates this phenomenon: high-performance batteries have the potential to revolutionize energy grids (Carrizo & Forget, 2017; Forget et al., submitted) and services such as mobility (Ali et al., 2017; Cranois, 2017; Martin et al., submitted, Vikström et al., 2013), but they require numerous raw materials (lithium, cobalt, nickel, etc.).

  2. Location: A focus on in-situ energy production can give new value to places. Historically associated with hydropower and wood energy, mountain areas are now also sites for solar farms, geothermal power plants, and methanization plants, etc. (Droulers, 2019; Flaminio, 2016; Sanjuan & Béreau, 2001). The different types of renewable energy remind us that, even though resources are social constructions, raw materials, and therefore the territories in which they are found, are central to energy production. This situation provides an opening for studying the phenomenon of “place dependence”, as territories’ dependency on the materials available for producing energy (Chabrol, 2016) inevitably raises the issue of their dependency on grids to meet energy demands (Aykut et al., 2017).

  3. Infrastructure: Whether or not infrastructures evolve in the face of the energy transition raises questions about the transition’s materiality and how it is perceived, accepted, and integrated (or not) into the landscape in response to new ways of conceiving energy.

Timeline

Article proposals, around 1,000 words in length, should be sent in either French (if the author is a native French speaker) or English (if the author’s mother tongue is any other language) by 15th October 2020 to Marie forget, marie.forget@univ-smb.fr and Sylvie Duvillard, sylvie.duvillard@univ-grenoble-alpes.fr, as well as the editorial team, addressed to Olivier Vallade, olivier.vallade@msh-alpes.fr. Final articles are expected by 1st March 2021. Publication of the articles is tentatively scheduled for December 2021.

Final articles must be submitted in one of the languages in which the review is published: Alpine languages (French, Italian, German), Spanish or English. The author must see to it that the article is translated into the second language after it has been assessed. One of the two versions must be in English. If the article is submitted by a native English speaker, the second version must be in French.

Bibliographie

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Addison T., Roe A., 2018.– Extractive Industries ; The management of resources as a driver of sustainable development, Oxford University Press, 733 p.

Ali S. H. et al., 2017.– « Mineral Supply for Sustainable Development Requires Resource Governance ». Nature 543 (7645), pp. 367-72

Bonneuil C., 2015.– « Anthropocène », dans Dictionnaire de la pensée écologique, Bourg D. (dir.), Presses Universitaires de France, p. 35-40

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