The ways in which societies secure energy and transform it to do useful work exerts a powerful influence on their economic prosperity, geographical structure and international relations. Major shifts in the role of different fuels and energy conversion technologies in the global energy mix have often underpinned broad social and geographical change, such as those accompanying the transition from wood and water power to coal in the 19th century, or from coal to oil in the twentieth. The primary energy challenge in the twenty-first century is to bring about a new transition, towards a more sustainable energy system characterised by security and affordability of supply and efficient, low-carbon sources - what some are calling a 'new energy paradigm'. The spatial implications of this new energy paradigm are not well defined, however, and a range of quite different geographical futures is currently in contention. Low-carbon electricity generation, for example, can be achieved either by large, remote actors (nuclear or offshore wind) and long-distance transmission, or via local and highly decentralized micro-generation. Similarly, different approaches for achieving energy security - from domestic investment in demand reduction to controlling and protecting overseas supplies - rest on assumptions about the geographical scale at which energy systems should be governed. Meeting the challenges of climate change and energy security, therefore, is fundamentally a geographical project: it not only requires societies to commit massive investment to redesign infrastructure, buildings and equipment, but also to make choices from a range of possible spatial solutions and scales of governance.
The purpose of this seminar series is to catalyze social science research on the spatial implications of the contemporary energy transition by initiating a dialogue between human geographers and energy experts in the academy, policy community and commercial sector. Although social science energy research in the UK is comparatively strong in some areas of policy analysis, existing capacities for understanding the linkages between energy and the spatial organisation of economic activity are much weaker. This series responds directly to an observed lack of capacity in the UK for geographical research on energy systems (University of Dundee 2007). It seeks to build research capacity by nurturing a new generation of post-graduate and post-doctoral researchers who, through their careers, will influence energy industry, investment, academic and policy communities; by creating a network of researchers, anchored by human geographers in the UK, that extends both disciplinarily and geographically to tap specific expertise; and by establishing - in partnership with the Royal Geographical Society - a Limited Life Working Group on Geographies of Energy. The Working Group will continue the work of the seminar series in seeding research on energy transition, energy security and climate change, and provide a means for communicating geography's contribution to understanding the social, economic and environmental implications of a new energy paradigm to academic and policy communities, and to the commercial sector.
The five seminars in the series bring together economic, political, cultural and environmental geographers with selected energy experts drawn from energy studies, sociology, environmental history, technology studies, economics and politics. Seminars 1-4 are structured to maximize opportunities for discussion and debate on specific research themes - Energy Transition, Energy Security, Energy Subjects, Low-Carbon Futures - and each concludes with a roundtable discussion developing the energy geographies research agenda. Seminar 5 takes the form of a day-long dissemination event at the Royal Geographical Society in London, where outputs and conclusions from Seminars 1-4 will be discussed with members of the policy community and the broader public.