Renewable Energy Labour and the Contradictions of Energy Transition

Friday, 20 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Rebecca PEARSE, University of Sydney, Australia
This paper investigates the social organisation of different kinds of renewable energy labour (wind, solar, hydro), reflecting on the broader political economic implications of energy transition. Using renewable energy workforce data in Australia, I discuss emerging evidence of the spatial re-organisation of energy workforces associated with energy industry transition, as well as the implications for collective organising if a comprehensive shift toward decentralised energy production were to be realised. Workforces of renewable energy industries are much more geographically dispersed and precarious than those of established, centralised fossil fuel industries. For instance across regional Australia, numbers of solar installation jobs have grown and retreated rapidly amidst energy policy uncertainty. By considering the new regional geographies of energy work in transition, the socio-political complications of re-embedding energy markets within ‘safe’ climate limits are revealed. In one sense, a forward march toward renewable energy is a key element to mending the biophysical disruption historically associated with fossil fuel capital accumulation. In another sense, renewable energy represents a source of precarious contract work that is more socially dis-embedded and ephemeral compared to coal workers in regional Australia. The new geographies of energy work illustrate that renewable energy transition reconfigures, but does not resolve, eco-social contradictions of capitalism.