What will it take? Is certainly a good question. Because it looks like we already have everything. But it’s not the case.
Fast transition is not easy, especially in the energy sector, because of the protracted nature of energy transition. The long, complex dynamics, the centuries-long, path-dependent, persistent use of fossil fuels, lock-in strategies, responses and destabilization of incumbent energy actors and institutions, or path dependence of the greenhouse effect and climate change, and even issues of equity and justice underlie many of the challenges involved and increase the difficulties of national and global (public or private) governance to solve it.
So, historical expertise might enhance our understanding and many studies have shown that transitioning away from our current global energy system is of paramount importance, including Sovacool, from Oxford University, or Grubler which has compellingly written, ‘the need for the “next”’ energy transition is widely apparent as current energy systems are simply unsustainable on all accounts of social, economic, and environmental criteria’. Fouquet has noted that “the relatively rare and protracted nature of energy transitions implies that it is vital to look at historical experiences for lessons about how they might unfold in the future.”
Adding to the fact that usually, transitions are lasting for a long time or longer than expected (the “protracted” nature), he outlined that the fastest historical energy transitions observed here was thirty years (in sector-specific cases). 30 years for just one specific sector, while full (or wide-scale) energy transitions, involving all sectors and services, have taken much longer. We don’t have this amount of time yet to fight Climate Change before it’s irreversibly well beyond the 1.5–2.5 C threshold. Last September, the United Nations highlighted that there is “Only 11 Years Left to Prevent Irreversible Damage from Climate Change, Speakers Warn during General Assembly High-Level Meeting”.
Several of the problem areas, identified by energy transition historical research, raise important, tricky issues concerning the development of knowledge about the nature, variety and complexities of energy transitions. They include the distinction between the many kinds of ‘minor’ and ‘major’ (or ‘grand’) transitions. This is important for our capacity to comprehend the scale, pace, duration, smoothness and (dis)continuity or other ‘special’ properties of transitions, and for our ability to guide or manage them. Indeed, studies have illustrated that the price of energy services played a crucial role in creating incentives to stimulate energy transitions. But an additional key factor is whether the new technology offers new characteristics of value to the consumer, which can help create a market even when the initial price is higher. On the opposite, a crucial factor that can delay a transition is the reaction of the incumbent and declining industries.
Nevertheless, governments have, in a few (just a few!) instances, created the regulatory setting to stimulate energy transitions to low-polluting energy sources. Yes, this could be done again, but only if the political will is available at the same time as alternative sources of funding while the clean energy sources project are deploying. Many technologies are available (and it's indeed a mix of technologies that is required for this clean transition), but the governments and the financial sector, i.e. the funding, should be following soon to make this transition as quick as possible.