Conceptualizing rural energy transitions: Energizing rural studies, ruralizing energy research

Matthias Naumann*, David Rudolph

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


Academic debates over the spatial implications of energy transitions and the realization of sustainable futures have predominantly focused on urban areas, which has resulted in the notion of ‘urban energy transitions’. The idea of ‘rural energy transitions’, however, has remained rather underexplored. This is surprising because resources needed to produce renewable energy constitute a key element of energy transitions and are inextricably tied to rural spaces. In particular, rural regions accommodate the majority of renewable energy infrastructures, such as wind turbines, solar, and biogas plants, as well as transmission grids. In that sense, urban energy transitions are simply impossible without rural energy transitions. Nevertheless, ‘rural’ dimensions of energy transition processes in the Global North have received only little scholarly interest, while the main focus of academic work has been on urban agglomerations. Despite the growing attention afforded to energy-related issues in the social sciences, in general, and urban studies and human geography, in particular, rural studies have only slowly started engaging with energy transitions as a research field. This paper, therefore, combines social science research on energy and rural studies to address this research gap. It identifies three intersections of both research traditions; namely, rural areas as locations for the materialization of energy transitions, contestations around energy issues in rural areas, and the emancipatory potentials of rural energy transitions. We argue that linking social science energy research and rural studies can yield valuable insights into the rural character of energy transitions and the role of energy within rural change.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Pages (from-to)97-104
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Rural areas
  • Energy transition
  • Rural change
  • Conflicts
  • Renewables


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