What’s the first image that comes to mind when you think about renewable energy?

For most of us, renewable energy conjures images of solar panels, wind turbines, and other associated technologies. When talking about sustainability, technological developments often take the center stage. In fact, much of the media coverage on renewable energy emphasizes technology, whether it be storm-proof wind turbines or transparent solar panels from agricultural waste.

Definitely, technology is a powerful driver of renewable energy. For instance, advancements in design and manufacturing have contributed to the rapidly declining cost of solar energy, making it the “cheapest electricity in history.” As renewable energy continues to take up a larger share of the energy mix, developments in energy storage and transmission systems will become increasingly important in driving further change.

However, is technology the be-all, end-all of sustainable energy? Several years ago, I would have answered yes. Ask me that question now and I’ll tell you that it’s complicated.

As a current participant of the REBOOT Training Program, I was introduced to the concept of the “just transition,” which describes the need for inclusivity and interdisciplinary approaches when tackling any societal transformation. In essence, any large-scale transformation, such as shifting towards a national energy mix dominated by renewable energy, will have far-reaching impacts on many aspects of society.

To navigate these changes, we’ll need to address complex issues and adopt multidisciplinary perspectives that go beyond technology. For instance, how will we protect the livelihoods of displaced coal power plant workers once we shift away from fossil fuels? Why aren’t we doing enough to fight global warming, and what can we do to inspire greater climate action? How can we ensure that everyone, from urban cities to remote, off-grid communities, can access the benefits of clean energy?

These are very hard questions to tackle, and we’ll need all the help we can get. We’ll need everyone, both people from within and outside the STEM fields, if we are to successfully navigate the just transition towards renewable energy.

I’ve always been fascinated by technology, especially as a person with an engineering background. There was even a time when I believed that averting the climate crisis was simply a matter of installing as many solar panels as possible.

Clearly, we do need technological interventions in the pursuit of a more sustainable world, but these have to be implemented alongside approaches that involve political, social, and economic considerations, among others.

Only through the inclusion of people from all walks of life can we truly have a just transition towards renewable energy.

Header image courtesy of Hippopx.