The 2021 Antipode RGS-IBG Lecture – “Taking Renewables to Market: Prospects for the After-Subsidy Energy Transition”

Brett Christophers, Department of Social and Economic Geography, Uppsala University

The 2021 Antipode Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) Lecture took place on Wednesday 1st September. The Lecture was recorded and can be viewed by Conference delegates now (click here). The recording will be available to all here on AntipodeOnline.org very soon.

Abstract: The development of renewable energy resources is currently undergoing a sea-change. With the cost of key (solar and wind) technologies having significantly declined in the past decade, governments are widely reducing or even removing the subsidies and revenue guarantees that have supported the development of renewables to date. The renewables sector is struggling to stand commercially on its own feet, however: without the collateral of state support, it is often difficult for developers to secure affordable project financing. In this talk I discuss both this growing challenge to the energy transition and a principal mechanism to which renewables developers are turning to try to resolve it – the corporate power-purchase agreement (PPA). Under renewables PPAs, corporations ranging from cloud-computing providers to aluminium smelters contract to buy electricity from solar parks or wind farms at fixed or floor prices for periods of up to 15–20 years. Often crucial in enabling developers to raise finance, PPAs have been widely hailed as re-energizing a faltering energy transition. But to rely on the purchasing habits of the likes of Amazon and Google rather than the investment priorities of governments to maintain the shift into renewables is, of course, to raise important political, economic and ecological questions.

Brett Christophers is a Professor in the Department of Social and Economic Geography at Uppsala University in Sweden. His work will be well known to readers of Antipode. Over the last 15 years we’ve published papers by him on housing and the financial crisis, financialisation and banking, wealth and inequality, the state and public land, markets and pricing, the cultural industries, and much besides.

His work will also be known not only to those outside Geography, given its propensity to stray beyond disciplinary borders, but also to those outside the academy, given how timely, pressing, and engaging it is. The quality of its content aside, the form of Brett’s work is notable. He writes books – long, theoretically accomplished books – that are unmistakably scholarly yet thrillingly activist. One cannot but be called to action (indeed, incensed) by the analyses he lays out. They do that “most revolutionary thing”, to borrow Rosa Luxemburg’s words; “proclaim loudly what is happening”. And while what’s happening, to borrow Gloria Steinem’s, “will piss you off”, analyses as strong as Brett’s might well “set you free”.

We made a promise to not wax lyrical about Brett and his work, so we’ll simply present the praise of others. Rentier Capitalism: Who Owns the Economy, and Who Pays for It? (Verso, 2020) was chosen as one of Best Economics Books of the Year 2020 by the Financial Times, and Will Hutton in the Guardian called it “arguably one of this year’s most important books”.

The New Enclosure: The Appropriation of Public Land in Neoliberal Britain (Verso, 2018) received the 2019 Deutscher Memorial Prize “for a book which exemplifies the best and most innovative new writing in or about the Marxist tradition”, and it was also reviewed by Will Self, and chosen as “Book of the day”, in the Guardian. (Speaking of the Guardian, it’s a newspaper in which Brett has made a number of interventions on the transition to renewables, the provision of personal protective equipment under rentier capitalism, and public land sell-off in the UK.)

The Great Leveler: Capitalism and Competition in the Court of Law (Harvard University Press, 2016) was subject of a review symposium published in Environment and Planning A in which Jamie Peck and Matthew Shape praise “the wide scope of the book’s historical-materialist theorizing, its integration of heterodox political-economic analysis into extended critiques of legal systems, and its novel analyses of how the contradictions of capitalist development are governed through legal means”.

And we know it’s one of “our” books, but, trust us, it’s a good one, Banking Across Boundaries: Placing Finance in Capitalism (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013) is one of two contributions by Brett to the Antipode Book Series (the other being Money and Finance After the Crisis: Critical Thinking for Uncertain Times [Wiley-Blackwell, 2017], co-edited by Brett, Andrew Leyshon and Geoff Mann). Together they have been central to the growing body of work on the geographies of money and finance.

Also worth tracking down are Economic Geography: A Critical Introduction (co-authored with Trevor Barnes [Wiley-Blackwell, 2018]), and both Envisioning Media Power: On Capital and Geographies of Television (Lexington Books, 2009) and Positioning the Missionary: John Booth Good and the Confluence of Cultures in Nineteenth-Century British Columbia (UBC Press, 1999) – books which began life as Brett’s PhD and MA theses, respectively.

As well as a prolific author, Brett is an editor of Agenda Publishing’s “Economic Transformations” book series, and the journal Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, and has long been a good friend to Antipode as an active member of our International Advisory Board.

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We were delighted when Brett accepted our invitation to present the 2020 Antipode RGS-IBG Lecture, and cancelling the event was difficult. Being able to stage it this year is a joy. Many thanks to Brett, from everyone at Antipode the journal and the Antipode Foundation, for agreeing to present at such a trying time, and to Wiley’s Rebecca Barber, Grace Ong, and Imogen Sharpe for all their help with the lecture and virtual issue. And a special thank you to Sarah Evans and the team at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) – their hard work each year make the Annual International Conference a special event, and we’re over the moon to see the Society opening up again this year.

Finally, as well as Brett’s six Antipode papers, we offer the 15 essays collected below in the hope that they’re good to think with as a primer or further reading to Brett’s 2021 Antipode RGS-IBG Lecture. Together they reflect themes germane to his work, and all are available to readers without a subscription until the end of the year.

Andy Kent
Managing Editor
27th August 2021

Virtual Issue

Oppressive Energopolitics in Africa’s Last Colony: Energy, Subjectivities, and Resistance” by Joanna Allan, Mahmoud Lemaadel and Hamza Lakhal

Indigenous Youth and Decolonial Futures: Energy and Environmentalism among the Diné in the Navajo Nation and the Lepchas of Sikkim, India” by Mabel Denzin Gergan and Andrew Curley

‘Money is Not the Problem’: The Slow Financialisation of Kenya’s Water Sector” by Joe Williams

The Role of Moral Devaluation in Phasing Out Fossil Fuels: Limits for a Socioecological Fix” by Andrea Furnaro

State Capitalism and the New Global D/development Regime” by Ilias Alami, Adam D. Dixon and Emma Mawdsley

Naturalising Finance, Financialising Natives: Indigeneity, Race, and ‘Responsible’ Agricultural Investment in Canada” by Melanie Sommerville

New Municipalism and the State: Remunicipalising Energy in Barcelona, from Prosaics to Process” by James Angel

A Postcolonial Critique of Community Energy: Searching for Community as Solidarity in India and Scotland” by Ankit Kumar and Gerald Taylor Aiken

The Making of Speculative Biodiesel Commodities on the Agroenergy Frontier of the Brazilian Northeast” by Maya Manzi

Classifying Like a State: Land Dispossession on Eastern Crete’s Contested Mountains” by Ioanna P. Korfiati

Governing a Liminal Land Deal: The Biopolitics and Necropolitics of Gender” by Youjin B. Chung

The Mythical Shapeshifting of Capital and Petrification of Labour: Deepening Conflict on the Agrofuel Frontier” by Brian Garvey, Edevaldo Aparecido Souza, Marcelo Rodrigues Mendonça, Crispim Valmir dos Santos and Francis Vinicius Portes Virginio

Financialisation, Climate Finance, and the Calculative Challenges of Managing Environmental Change” by Sarah Bracking

‘Fixing’ Climate Change by Mortgaging the Future: Negative Emissions, Spatiotemporal Fixes, and the Political Economy of Delay” by Wim Carton

Making Space for Wind Farms: Practices of Territorial Stigmatisation in Rural Denmark” by David Rudolph and Julia K. Kirkegaard