Southeast Asia Energy Transitions: Between Modernity and Sustainability.

AuthorLen, Christopher
PositionBook review

Southeast Asia Energy Transitions: Between Modernity and Sustainability. By Mattijs Smits. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2015. Hardcover: 221pp.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest regarding Southeast Asia's emergence as a key player in global energy markets. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has, for instance, noted Southeast Asia's rapid economic and demographic growth, and produced three in-depth studies on Southeast Asia's energy profile under its World Energy Outlook Series, the latest being the Southeast Asian Energy Outlook 2015. In this report, the IEA points out that the region's development depends on meeting growing energy demands in a secure and sustainable manner, providing energy access to those who currently lack it, encouraging energy-efficient practices and limiting the rise of greenhouse gas emissions. It points out that the energy policy frameworks in place in Southeast Asia today are diverse due to disparate economic, political and cultural profiles, and the varied scale and patterns of their energy use and energy resource endowments. The report also notes that a common trend in many of these countries has been the growing emphasis on the deployment of renewable energy technologies.

As the region rises in prominence within the global energy scene, Mattijs Smits' book on Southeast Asia energy transitions is a welcome scholarly addition that enriches our understanding of the region's evolving energy landscape by utilizing the lens of social science. Smits investigates the apparent tensions between modernity and sustainability during energy transitions by studying power sector developments in Southeast Asia on different scales: regional (ASEAN and the Greater Mekong Subregion); national (Thailand and Laos); and local (two villages in Laos, one village and one sub-district in Thailand).

Smits begins his book by asking two important questions: first, "how can we reconcile development and growth of energy demand with questions about sustainability?"; and second, "what roles do energy and sustainability play in driving social and political change?" (p. xv). In his investigation, he adopts a multi-disciplinary approach, drawing on "human geography, (environmental) sociology, political ecology, anthropology, development studies, science and technology studies, and social theory more generally" (p. 3).

The book is divided into seven chapters. The first two chapters layout the conceptual framework...

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