A framework for evaluating geographic disparities in energy transition vulnerability


The path towards decarbonization promises many societal benefits such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and new technological innovation. The adverse effects of policies that are helping to facilitate the energy transition, such as price spikes or job displacement, however, are not evenly spread across the population, and some individuals and communities are more vulnerable to possible adverse impacts than others. Here, we adapt a framework for conceptualizing vulnerability from the climate change adaptation literature to the energy context. We construct the dimensions of the framework, provide an illustration using the case of the renewable portfolio standard, generate a vulnerability score measure and map vulnerability across US counties. Our analysis shows that this framework can be used to identify geographical disparities, and should be further developed in future research to provide deeper insights about a just transition.

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Fig. 1: US energy transition vulnerability scoping diagram.
Fig. 2: Renewable portfolio standards maps.
Fig. 3: Vulnerability score map.


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The authors would like to acknowledge financial support for this project offered by the Indiana University’s Office for the Vice Provost for Research through the IU Collaborative Research Grant. B.Wiley and L. Platzer provided valuable research assistance. Helpful feedback was offered on an earlier version of this manuscript by T. Fitzgerald, R. Gifford, K. Gillingham, M. Kahn, T. Kavulla, R. Kellogg, L. Kiesling, C. Kulander, I. Lange, J. Makholm, S. Masten, L. Muehlenbachs, A. Ohler, S. Puller, D. Williamson and F. Wolak.

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All authors developed the concept for the paper and conducted the analysis. M.G. gathered the quantitative data. S.C., M.G., and D.K. co-wrote the paper. T.E. developed the maps and edited the paper.

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Correspondence to Sanya Carley.

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Carley, S., Evans, T.P., Graff, M. et al. A framework for evaluating geographic disparities in energy transition vulnerability. Nat Energy 3, 621–627 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-018-0142-z

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