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Working paper

A conversation about energy futures for remote Australian communities

31 Dec 2014

Remote Australia – an area that covers 85% of the continent but houses just 2.3% of its adult population (ABS 2014) – is considered distant from many markets and centres of power. Remote Australia’s social distance puts a premium on local knowledge and technical and social innovations to address problems that mainstream approaches may fail to resolve. In the ‘Exploring energy futures for remote Australian communities’ project, we were interested in the future of social and organisational innovations that make consumption of energy by households and industry more sustainable – regardless of what the future holds.

The paper documents the creation of a conceptual framework that could be used to support ongoing conversations around energy futures. To engage the reader in those conversations, we raise a series of questions for readers to reflect on. The questions address a range of topics: visions of more liveable and resilient futures, policy approaches and instruments; governance dependencies; energy-related social practices; and the value of techniques and methods used to think about the future. This paper focuses on scenarios (sets of plausible storylines for how the future may unfold) and visions (outcomes that people value), and the relation between them. We find that existing Australian energy scenarios offer useful technology content but have notable limitations from the perspective of participatory policy development. Existing scenarios do not elaborate on questions of social agency (how and through whom change and innovation occur), nor on liveability (what is it like to live in alternate energy futures?). Demonstrating that a more holistic analysis is possible, we develop three energy-related scenarios that deal with housing and innovation, in a manner more accessible to generalists.

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