Despite a growing sense of urgency to improve energy systems so as to reduce fossil-fuel dependency, energy system change has been slow, uncertain, and geographically diverse. Interestingly, this regionally heterogeneous evolution of energy system change is not merely a consequence of technological limitations, but also and importantly a product of complex socio-political factors influencing the deployment of new energy technologies. The socio-political context for energy deployment differs on national, state, and even local levels, making cross-jurisdictional analysis of energy systems challenging. At the same time, understanding how social, legal, cultural, and political factors influence energy deployment across multiple jurisdictions is critical to developing effective policies for reducing fossil-fuel dependency.
In response to such challenges, in 2008 we developed the Socio-Political Evaluation of Energy Deployment (SPEED) framework. SPEED is an interdisciplinary framework for analyzing how technological, social, and political conditions influence the development and deployment of specific energy technologies. SPEED has been applied to compare regional disparities in the deployment of multiple specific technologies. This Article illustrates how an enhanced version of the original SPEED framework can be used to characterize the socio-political factors influencing the development of energy systems across multiple regions. First, we describe the value of SPEED analysis in characterizing interactions among multiple factors—including cultural, political, environmental, legal, technical, and economic influences—that shape energy technology deployment and drive system change. Then, using smart grid development as an example of a system-wide energy initiative, we describe how the application of SPEED analysis could improve policy and regulatory effectiveness.