How long will it take? Conceptualizing the temporal dynamics of energy transitions

Journal Article


Transitioning away from our current global energy system is of paramount importance. The speed at which a transition can take place—its timing, or temporal dynamics—is a critical element of consideration. This study therefore investigates the issue of time in global and national energy transitions by asking: What does the mainstream academic literature suggest about the time scale of energy transitions? Additionally, what does some of the more recent empirical data related to transitions say, or challenge, about conventional views? In answering these questions, the article presents a “mainstream” view of energy transitions as long, protracted affairs, often taking decades to centuries to occur. However, the article then offers some empirical evidence that the predominant view of timing may not always be supported by the evidence. With this in mind, the final part of the article argues for more transparent conceptions and definitions of energy transitions, and it asks for analysis that recognizes the causal complexity underlying them.