Promises of Democratic Connection? The Politics of Transregional Energy Infrastructure Expansion
Contemporary transregional energy infrastructure projects aim to increase global connectivity and envisage seemingly borderless flows of energy. However, political science and sociology mostly still struggle to make sense of transregional entanglements beyond nation-states. Global planning agencies – in cooperation with governments and international financial institutions – have become key actors in pursuing such infrastructural expansion. This global production of an intricate and renewed energy infrastructure network – from wind and solar energy plants to power grids and transmission cables – is rapidly transforming the connections between the Global North and South.
While such infrastructures are increasingly transregional, both in material terms as border crossing ‘hardware’ and in replicating similar design across the globe, a deeper understanding of the relationship between transregional infrastructure and the political agency of different actors in its planning, governance, and implementation is lacking. Infrastructure master plans increasingly look alike to match imaginaries of infrastructures as instruments of modernity, fulfilling aspirations of ‘progress’. Such projects overwhelmingly rely on global quality measurement, organizational logics of financialisation and generic design such as ‘development corridors’.
Efforts at integrating different national electricity grids into larger (trans-)regional super-grids not only quite literally connect regions anew, but also aspire to very similar socio-technical imaginaries. While colonial legacies of infrastructure and expertise may inform infrastructural ambitions, power asymmetries between postcolonial states and global infrastructure ‘players’ are often addressed as intrinsic deficits of the Global South.
Between 2022 and 2024, Dr Alke Jenss, Dr Alessandra Bonci and Dr Benjamin Schuetze at the ABI will work on the significance and impact of transregional infrastructures for possible democratic governance in the different places they connect. The progress of the research is documented on the project website.
Based on two cases of transregional energy infrastructure projects, namely attempts at connecting power grids between North Africa and Europe via submarine cables (MedGrid), and the creation of one interconnected North- and Central American power grid (SIEPAC), this project asks:
- In which ways do transregional infrastructure projects transform local, national and transnational political agency?
- What is their effect on democratic and/or authoritarian practices of governance?
(1) combines global infrastructure and governance studies to explore the continuum between democratic and authoritarian practices in transregional infrastructure expansion, and particularly, the role of global planning agencies, in infrastructure expansion. It provides an in-depth understanding of the political consequences of infrastructure expansion for a global energy transition.
(2) institutionalizes an interdisciplinary research platform on transregional infrastructure, to overcome disciplinary and nation-state boundaries, which such projects so clearly transcend.
Funded by Fritz-Thyssen-Stiftung
Photo by Andrey Metelev on Unsplash