Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

A framework to centre justice in energy transition innovations


The important role of justice in energy transition technologies has been a topic of increasing interest in recent years. However, key questions remain about how inequities influence energy transition innovations (ETIs) from their design to their widespread use, which ETIs receive more funding, and who controls ETI research, prototyping and deployment. Here we propose a framework to centre justice in energy transition innovations (CJI) and examine how three tenets of justice (recognition, procedural and distributional justice) influence each level of ETI, including niche, regime and landscape levels. We examine wind energy in Mexico and multiple ETIs in Los Angeles as use cases to show how our CJI framework can help reveal the specific inequities undermining just energy transitions at crucial analytical levels of ETI in practice. Our CJI framework offers a path for promoters, practitioners and underserved communities to target the problems these groups face and create ETIs that better address their specific aspirations, needs and circumstances.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout


  1. Gallagher, K. S., Holdren, J. P. & Sagar, A. D. Energy-technology innovation. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 31, 193–237 (2006).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Monyei, C. G. et al. Justice, poverty and electricity decarbonization. Electr. J. 32, 47–51 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Romero Lankao, P., Wilson, A. & Zimny-Schmitt, D. Inequalities and the future of electric mobility in 36 United States cities: an innovative methodology and comparative assessment. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 91, 102760 (2022).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Sovacool, B. K. & Dworkin, M. H. Energy justice: conceptual insights and practical applications. Appl. Energy 142, 435–444 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Walker, G. Beyond distribution and proximity: exploring the multiple spatialities of environmental justice. Antipode 41, 614–636 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Schlosberg, D. Reconceiving environmental justice: global movements and political theories. Environ. Polit. 13, 517–540 (2004).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Newell, P., Srivastava, S., Naess, L. O., Torres Contreras, G. A. & Price, R. Toward transformative climate justice: an emerging research agenda. Wiley Interdiscip. Rev. Clim. Change 12, e733 (2021).

    Google Scholar 

  8. Pellow, D. N. Toward a critical environmental justice studies: Black Lives Matter as an environmental justice challenge. Du Bois Rev. Soc. Sci. Res. Race 13, 221–236 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Holifield, R. Actor‐network theory as a critical approach to environmental justice: a case against synthesis with urban political ecology. Antipode 41, 637–658 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Caniglia, B. S., Vallée, M. & Frank, B. F. Resilience, Environmental Justice and the City (Routledge, 2017).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Boudet, H. S. Public perceptions of and responses to new energy technologies. Nat. Energy 4, 446–455 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Álvarez, L. & Coolsaet, B. Decolonizing environmental justice studies: a Latin American perspective. Capitalism Nat. Social. 31, 50–69 (2020).

    Google Scholar 

  13. Sauser, B., Verma, D., Ramirez-Marquez, J. & Gove, R. From TRL to SRL: the concept of systems readiness levels. In Conference on Systems Engineering Research Vol. 5 (Stevens Institute of Technology, 2006).

  14. Geels, F. W. Processes and patterns in transitions and system innovations: refining the co-evolutionary multi-level perspective. Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change 72, 681–696 (2005).

    Google Scholar 

  15. Geels, F. W. Reducing energy demand through low carbon innovation: a sociotechnical transitions perspective and thirteen research debates. Soc. Sci. 40, 23–35 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  16. Agyeman, J. & Evans, T. Toward just sustainability in urban communities: building equity rights with sustainable solutions. Ann. Am. Acad. Polit. Soc. Sci. 590, 35–53 (2003).

    Google Scholar 

  17. Ikeme, J. Equity, environmental justice and sustainability: incomplete approaches in climate change politics. Glob. Environ. Change 13, 195–206 (2003).

    Google Scholar 

  18. Rawls, J. A Theory of Justice (Harvard Univ. Press, 1971).

  19. Romero Lankao, P., Rosner, N., Lockshin, J. & Zimny-Schmitt, D. in LA100 Equity Strategies Ch. 1, 60 (LADWP, NREL and UCLA, 2023).

  20. Fan, Y., Guthrie, A., Van Dort, L. & Baas, G. Advancing Transportation Equity: Research and Practice (Center for Transportation Studies, Univ. Minnesota, 2019);

  21. Carley, S. & Konisky, D. M. The justice and equity implications of the clean energy transition. Nat. Energy 5, 569–577 (2020).

    Google Scholar 

  22. Heffron, R. J. & McCauley, D. The concept of energy justice across the disciplines. Energy Policy 105, 658–667 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  23. Malakar, Y., Herington, M. J. & Sharma, V. The temporalities of energy justice: examining India’s energy policy paradox using non-western philosophy. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 49, 16–25 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  24. Hazrati, M. & Heffron, R. J. Conceptualising restorative justice in the energy transition: changing the perspectives of fossil fuels. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 78, 102115 (2021).

    Google Scholar 

  25. Healy, N., Stephens, J. C. & Malin, S. A. Embodied energy injustices: unveiling and politicizing the transboundary harms of fossil fuel extractivism and fossil fuel supply chains. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 48, 219–234 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  26. Sovacool, B. K., Burke, M., Baker, L., Kotikalapudi, C. K. & Wlokas, H. New frontiers and conceptual frameworks for energy justice. Energy Policy 105, 677–691 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  27. Owen, R. et al. in Responsible Innovation: Managing the Responsible Emergence of Science and Innovation in Society (eds Owen, R. et al.) 27–50 (Wiley, 2013).

  28. Stilgoe, J., Owen, R. & Macnaghten, P. in The Ethics of Nanotechnology, Geoengineering and Clean Energy (eds Maynard, A. & Stilgoe, J.) 347–359 (Routledge, 2020).

  29. Geels, F. W. Towards a modular and temporal understanding of system diffusion. Adoption models and socio-technical theories applied to Austrian biomass district-heating (1979–2013). Soc. Sci. 38, 138–153 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  30. Jenkins, K. E., Spruit, S., Milchram, C., Höffken, J. & Taebi, B. Synthesizing value sensitive design, responsible research and innovation, and energy justice: a conceptual review. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 69, 101727 (2020).

    Google Scholar 

  31. Geels, F. W., Sovacool, B. K., Schwanen, T. & Sorrell, S. Sociotechnical transitions for deep decarbonization. Science 357, 1242–1244 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  32. Loorbach, D., Frantzeskaki, N. & Avelino, F. Sustainability transitions research: transforming science and practice for societal change. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 42, 599–626 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  33. Dokshin, F. A. Whose backyard and what’s at issue? Spatial and ideological dynamics of local opposition to fracking in New York State, 2010 to 2013. Am. Sociol. Rev. 81, 921–948 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  34. Brandtner, C. Green American city: civic capacity and the distributed adoption of urban innovations. Am. J. Sociol. 128, 627–679 (2022).

    Google Scholar 

  35. Romero-Lankao, P. et al. Of actors, cities and energy systems: advancing the transformative potential of urban electrification. Prog. Energy 3, 032002 (2021).

    Google Scholar 

  36. Sovacool, B. K., Newell, P., Carley, S. & Fanzo, J. Equity, technological innovation and sustainable behaviour in a low-carbon future. Nat. Hum. Behav. 6, 326–337 (2022).

    Google Scholar 

  37. Romero-Lankao, P. et al. Urban transformative potential in a changing climate. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 754–756 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  38. Morone, P., Lopolito, A., Anguilano, D., Sica, E. & Tartiu, V. E. Unpacking landscape pressures on socio-technical regimes: insights on the urban waste management system. Environ. Innov. Soc. Transit. 20, 62–74 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  39. Zenou, Y. & Boccard, N. Racial discrimination and redlining in cities. J. Urban Econ. 48, 260–285 (2000).

    Google Scholar 

  40. Miller, C. A., O’Leary, J., Graffy, E., Stechel, E. B. & Dirks, G. Narrative futures and the governance of energy transitions. Futures 70, 65–74 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  41. Tidwell, J. H. & Tidwell, A. S. D. Energy ideals, visions, narratives, and rhetoric: examining sociotechnical imaginaries theory and methodology in energy research. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 39, 103–107 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  42. Vestergaard, J., Brandstrup, L. & Goddard, R. D. A brief history of the wind turbine industries in Denmark and the United States. In Academy of International Business (Southeast USA Chapter) Conference Proceedings 322–327 (2004).

  43. Kaldellis, J. K. & Zafirakis, D. The wind energy (r)evolution: a short review of a long history. Renew. Energy 36, 1887–1901 (2011).

    Google Scholar 

  44. Global Renewables Outlook: Energy Transformation 2050 (IRENA, 2020).

  45. GWEC Releases Global Wind Turbine Supplier Ranking for 2020—Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC, 2021);

  46. Mejía-Montero, A., Lane, M., van Der Horst, D. & Jenkins, K. E. Grounding the energy justice lifecycle framework: an exploration of utility-scale wind power in Oaxaca, Mexico. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 75, 102017 (2021).

    Google Scholar 

  47. Zárate Toledo, E. & Fraga, J. El derecho de consulta previa en la transición energética mexicana. Cahiers des Amériques Latines 123–140 (2019).

  48. Mejía-Montero, A., Alonso-Serna, L. & Altamirano-Allende, C. in The Regulation and Policy of Latin American Energy Transitions (ed. Guimarães, L. N.) 303–318 (Elsevier, 2020).

  49. Crown, L. & Hutchison, S. Enticed By the Wind: A Case Study in the Social and Historical Context of Wind Energy Development in Southern Mexico (Wilson Center, 2015);

  50. Juárez-Hernández, S. & León, G. Energía eólica en el Istmo de Tehuantepec: desarrollo, actores y oposición social. Probl. del Desarro. 45, 139–162 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  51. Velasco-Herrejón, P., Bauwens, T. & Friant, M. C. Challenging dominant sustainability worldviews on the energy transition: lessons from indigenous communities in Mexico and a plea for pluriversal technologies. World Dev. 150, 105725 (2022).

    Google Scholar 

  52. Howe, C. & Boyer, D. in Ecologics: Wind and Power in the Anthropocene, IX-VI (Duke Univ. Press, 2019).

  53. Dunlap, A. The ‘solution’ is now the ‘problem’: wind energy, colonisation and the ‘genocide-ecocide nexus’ in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca. Int. J. Hum. Rights 22, 550–573 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  54. Anaya, S. J. Observaciones del Profesor S. James Anaya Sobre la Consulta en el Contexto del Proyecto Energia Eolica del sur en Juchitan de Zaragoza. Juchitan (Fundar, 2015);

  55. Pozas, L. M. U. El proyecto transnacional eólico en el Istmo de Tehuantepec (México): impactos múltiples. Revista Nuevas Tendencias en Antropología 6, 68–94 (2015).

  56. Huesca-Pérez, M. E., Sheinbaum-Pardo, C. & Köppel, J. Social implications of siting wind energy in a disadvantaged region—the case of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 58, 952–965 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  57. Herrejon, P. V. & Savaresi, A. Wind energy, benefit-sharing and indigenous peoples: lessons from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Southern Mexico. Oil Gas Energy Law 18, 101711 (2020).

    Google Scholar 

  58. Cochran, J. et al. LA100: The Los Angeles 100% Renewable Energy Study Executive Summary (NREL, 2021);

  59. LADWP. LADWP launches groundbreaking LA100 equity strategies initiative. LADWP News (2021).

  60. Ong, P. M. & González, S. R. Uneven Urbanscape: Spatial Structures and Ethnoracial Inequality (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2019).

  61. Kun, J. & Pulido, L. Black and Brown in Los Angeles: Beyond Conflict and Coalition (Univ. California Press, 2014).

  62. Hughes, D. Reorienting social priorities in L.A.: taking freeways back to communities. From Freeways to Highways: Comparative Housing (2021);

  63. Hoffman, J. S., Shandas, V. & Pendleton, N. The effects of historical housing policies on resident exposure to intra-urban heat: a study of 108 US urban areas. Climate 8, 12 (2020).

    Google Scholar 

  64. Rosner, N., Blanco, L., Romero Lankao, P. & Zimny-Schmitt, D. in LA100 Equity Strategies 40, Ch. 2 (LADWP, 2023).

  65. Lekavičius, V., Bobinaitė, V., Galinis, A. & Pažėraitė, A. Distributional impacts of investment subsidies for residential energy technologies. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 130, 109961 (2020).

    Google Scholar 

  66. Lukanov, B. R. & Krieger, E. M. Distributed solar and environmental justice: exploring the demographic and socio-economic trends of residential PV adoption in California. Energy Policy 134, 110935 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  67. Von Hippel, E. Democratizing Innovation (MIT Press, 2005).

  68. Björgvinsson, E., Ehn, P. & Hillgren, P.-A. Agonistic participatory design: working with marginalised social movements. CoDesign 8, 127–144 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  69. Fricker, M. Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing (Oxford Univ. Press, 2007).

  70. Hess, D. J. Energy democracy and social movements: a multi-coalition perspective on the politics of sustainability transitions. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 40, 177–189 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  71. Sine, W. D. & Lee, B. H. Tilting at windmills? The environmental movement and the emergency of the U.S. wind energy sector. Admin. Sci. Q. 54, 123–155 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  72. The Path to Net Zero: Climate Assembly UK Full Report (Climate Assembly UK, 2020);

  73. Dryzek, J. S. & Pickering, J. Deliberation as a catalyst for reflexive environmental governance. Ecol. Econ. 131, 353–360 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  74. Rea, C. M. & Frickel, S. The environmental state: nature and the politics of environmental protection. Sociol. Theory (2023).

  75. Deason, J., Leventis, G. & Murphy, S. Performance of Solar Leasing for Low- and Middle-income Customers in Connecticut (Berkeley Lab, 2021).

  76. Ellegård, A., Arvidson, A., Nordström, M., Kalumiana, O. S. & Mwanza, C. Rural people pay for solar: experiences from the Zambia PV-ESCO project. Renew. Energy 29, 1251–1263 (2004).

    Google Scholar 

  77. Coplan, K. S. Citizen litigants citizen regulators: four cases where citizen suits drove development of Clean Water Law. Colo. Nat. Resour. Energy Envtl L. Rev. 25, 61 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  78. Green, F. & Gambhir, A. Transitional assistance policies for just, equitable and smooth low-carbon transitions: who, what and how? Clim. Policy 20, 902–921 (2020).

    Google Scholar 

  79. Dryzek, J. S. & Tanasoca, A. Democratizing Global Justice: Deliberating Global Goals (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2021).

  80. Kuzemko, C., Blondeel, M., Dupont, C. & Brisbois, M. C. Russia’s war on Ukraine, European energy policy responses and implications for sustainable transformations. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 93, 102842 (2022).

    Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was authored in part by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, operated by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC, for the US Department of Energy (DOE) under contract no. DE-AC36-08GO28308. Funding was provided by the US DOE, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The views expressed in the Article do not necessarily represent the views of the DOE or the US Government. The US Government retains, and the publisher, by accepting the Article for publication, acknowledges that the US Government retains a nonexclusive, paid-up, irrevocable, worldwide license to publish or reproduce the published form of this work, or allow others to do so, for US Government purposes.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Patricia Romero-Lankao.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Energy thanks Johanna Höffken, Alvegul Sorman and Benjamin Sovacool for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Romero-Lankao, P., Rosner, N., Brandtner, C. et al. A framework to centre justice in energy transition innovations. Nat Energy 8, 1192–1198 (2023).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing