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Sustainability 2014, 6(5), 2601-2622; doi:10.3390/su6052601

A Framework for Defining Sustainable Energy Transitions: Principles, Dynamics, and Implications

*  and
Institute Center for Smart and Sustainable Systems, Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, P.O. Box 54224, Abu Dhabi, UAE
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 19 November 2013 / Revised: 18 April 2014 / Accepted: 22 April 2014 / Published: 2 May 2014
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Energy-Sustainability Nexus)
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While partial energy transitions have been observed in the past, the complete transition of a fossil-based energy system to a sustainable energy one is historically unprecedented on a large scale. Switching from an economy based on energy stocks to one based on energy flows requires a social paradigm shift. This paper defines Sustainable Energy Transition (SET) and introduces a set of five propositions that prescribe its sustainability. The propositions are comprehensive, spanning environmental constraints, resource availability, equity, and the transition dynamics from an energy and economic accounting perspective aimed at addressing all three pillars of sustainability. In order to rigorously define the constraints of SET a theoretical energy economy framework is introduced along with the concept of the renewable energy investment ratio. The paper concludes with a practical application of the SET propositions on the global energy system and identifies an order of magnitude underinvestment in the renewable energy investment ratio in comparison to the estimated level needed for a controlled transition that satisfies all propositions. The option of drastically increasing this ratio in the future may not be available as it would reduce societally available energy, imposing unacceptably high energy prices that would induce either fossil resource extraction beyond the safely recoverable resources or energy poverty.
Keywords: sustainable energy transition; energy economics; renewable energy; system dynamics sustainable energy transition; energy economics; renewable energy; system dynamics
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Sgouridis, S.; Csala, D. A Framework for Defining Sustainable Energy Transitions: Principles, Dynamics, and Implications. Sustainability 2014, 6, 2601-2622.

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