Decarbonizing Growth: The Political Economy of Energy Transitions in High- and Middle-Income Countries

Max Willems

Energy systems are fundamental infrastructures of economic growth. At the same time, their decarbonization is the cornerstone of climate change mitigation. Yet they have been largely overlooked in the study of comparative capitalism – along with the physical and technical materiality of political economies more generally. This dissertation project places energy systems at the center of analysis, conceiving of them as symbiotically related to economic growth models. Conceptualizing renewable energy transitions as processes of extensive economic redistribution – between economic sectors, industries, firms, households, and whole economies – intertemporal and cross-country variation in renewable energy policymaking is analyzed at the European and national level. Using large-N quantitative and case study methods, the project proposes that the “growth-energy nexus” conditions renewable energy transition trajectories on different policy dimensions, including technology choice, the distribution of policy costs and benefits, and geo-economic trade-offs. While the relationship between growth and patterns of energy consumption and production has long been debated among mainstream economists, this project is the first to analyze the growth politics of energy system transformation from a comparative perspective.

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