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Durham University

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Publication details for Professor Cheryl McEwan

McEwan, C. (2017). Spatial processes and politics of renewable energy transition: land, zones and frictions in South Africa. Political Geography 56: 1-12.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper seeks to make a contribution to on-going debates about how to conceptualise the spatial processes of renewable energy transition. It makes a case for understanding renewable energy transitions as simultaneously spatial and political processes, constitutive of new territories and configuring development pathways. Drawing on a case study of South Africa's Renewable Energy Independent Power Procurement Programme (REI4P), the paper explores the ways in which energy transitions are intrinsically bound up with both the materiality and the historical and contemporary politics of land. It then examines the relationship between energy transitions and territory to conceptualise the ways in which transitions take on an experimental shape in the form of 'zones'. The paper argues that these zones are new territories deploying forms of spatial and political-administrative exceptionality, which allow political and economic actors to exercise authority and commercial power. Two types of zone emerging from South Africa's energy transition exemplify these processes: legally-defined zones for the development of solar and wind energy and zones of socioeconomic development required by REI4P. The paper explores the spatial and political consequences of these strategies and suggests that these may not necessarily translate into conflict and confrontation, but instead produce uneasy co-existences of different political, social and spatial projects and interests, with potential to create new polities.