As part of the wider low-carbon transition, the energy transition is a socio-technical transformation that has a profound impact on developmental planning and patterns for cities.

Contemporary ‘sustainable energy transitions’ are introducing an increasing share of low-carbon technologies, notably, renewable energy such as wind and solar into countries’ energy systems. As a result of this technological shift, national power sectors are undergoing multidimensional shifts, with the structure of generation, transmission and distribution of electricity being radically rethought. The increase in renewable energy technologies has wide-ranging implications for how energy infrastructure is planned, financed, built and owned.

Renewable energy options are implementable at a variety of scales, from household solar home systems to microgrids serving residential or commercial users, and large utility-scale infrastructure. The material transformation of energy systems can translate into a greater share of smaller, distributed energy generation, which interacts differently with transmission and distribution networks.

This infrastructure has significant implications for the operation and governance of energy systems, affecting time frames for planning and investment, and the scale at which governance makes sense. As the system becomes more materially decentralised, so it requires governance reconfigured to manage this change. There is an opportunity as well as a demand for more localised planning and management.  For this reason, local governments and other local actors are understood to be critical as we transition and in the low-carbon energy systems of the future.

In addition to managing risk and navigating decentralisation, there are other just urban transition opportunities related to the inclusion of more actors in decision-making and economic benefit. Energy democracy, a concept used to characterise this broadening of representation and participation, is a key part of the urban just transition story. Many actors see the participation of households, communities, small businesses, cooperatives and nonprofits in infrastructure investment as a positive, pro-democratic development. Energy democracy is positioned as a way to disrupt entrenched, often highly concentrated and centralised, political economies of energy, which shape how responsive the sector is to the needs and priorities of the people it serves.