Strange, Wonderful, and Disturbing: Using foresight exercises to understand the governance implications of distributed ledger technology for a sustainable energy systems transformation
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Global energy consumption is expected to increase over the course of this century. Continued generation with the current energy mix is expected to further threaten climate tipping points. In order to meet emissions reduction targets, there has been a global push by governments to increase their share of renewable energy sources (RESs). Adoption has grown across scales, in addition to demand for new market models which allow for more flexible energy distribution. Liberalization of energy markets has expanded the number of actors involved, further contributing to the complexity of the issue. Adapting management systems and market models to better incorporate distributed energy sources poses a unique challenge to current energy system actors. Information and communication technologies (ICT) are increasingly explored as a means of increasing efficiency and enabling more dynamic markets. Among these is distributed ledger technology (DLT), a decentralised, immutable, and cryptographically secured record of transactions which proponents claim can enable peer-to-peer energy trading. As of November 2018, DLT-enabled energy trading remains in an experimental phase. The question of governance has repeatedly been raised without clear strategic visions set for integration into future energy systems. This research is a single case study which employed participatory foresight methods to understand how governance arrangements, actor networks, and innovation policies can be shaped over the first half of the 21st century in order to facilitate a sustainable energy system transformation enhanced by distributed ledger technology. The foresight methods used are visioning, driver mapping, scenario design, and policy-stress testing. Participants came from various levels, roles, and competencies within the energy sector. Several DLT application areas were identified, along with drivers of change, which were used to frame scenario narratives applied later in policy stress-testing. Results show that while DLT is not deemed a necessary part of a sustainable energy system transformation, an interactive mode of governance would be most conducive to a future in which it would have a role. Further, results suggest that there are ample opportunities for DLT and/or innovation policies to be co-opted by vested interests and locked into a non-transformative pathway. The importance of data-sharing in enabling sociotechnical change and, moreover, the legitimacy debate surrounding data collection methods is another key insight. This research enriches the robustness of contemporary knowledge on the arrangement and planning for transformative governance structures which can promote opportunities for sustainable development provided by novel technologies such as DLT, in addition to the role of foresight exercises in anticipatory governance.