Renewable energy is a widely used term that describes certain types of energy production. In politics, business and academia, renewable energy is often framed as the key solution to the global climate challenge. We, however, argue that the concept of renewable energy is problematic and should be abandoned in favor of more unambiguous conceptualization.
Building on the theoretical literature on framing and based on document analysis, case examples and statistical data, we discuss how renewable energy is framed and has come to be a central energy policy concept and analyze how its use has affected the way energy policy is debated and conducted. We demonstrate five major issues with the concept of renewable energy: i) renewability does not guarantee sustainability; ii) renewables encompass very different forms of energy, with very different policy challenges; iii) policies based on renewable energy have mixed results; iv) the concept of renewable energy enables environmentally harmful bait-and-switch; and v) the whole idea of renewable energy is
misleading. After analyzing these issues, we discuss alternative conceptualizations and present our model of categorizing energy production according to carbon content and combustion.
The paper does not intend to criticize or promote any specific form of energy production, but instead discusses the role of institutional conceptualization in energy policy.
- Renewable energy (RE) is a widely shared concept that influences energy policy worldwide
- The concept of RE is problematic in many ways, yet these problems are often ignored
- The umbrella of RE seems to enable questionable bait-and-switch tactics
- Alternative conceptualization of energy could support more effective climate policy
Renewable energy, energy policy, climate change, institutional theory, framing