A 1.5°C global average target implies that we should no longer focus on merely incremental emissions reductions from the electricity system, but rather on fundamentally re-envisaging a system that, sooner rather than later, becomes carbon free. Many low-carbon technologies are surpassing mainstream predictions for both uptake and cost reduction. Their deployment is beginning to be disruptive within established systems. 'Smart technologies' are being developed to address emerging challenges of system integration, but their rates of future deployment remain uncertain. We argue that transition towards a system that can fully displace carbon generation sources will require expanding the focus of our efforts beyond technical solutions. Recognizing that change has social and technical dimensions, and that these interact strongly, we set out a socio-technical review that covers electricity infrastructure, citizens, business models and governance. It describes some of the socio-technical challenges that need to be addressed for the successful transition of the existing electricity systems. We conclude that a socio-technical understanding of electricity system transitions offers new and better insights into the potential and challenges for rapid decarbonization.This article is part of the theme issue 'The Paris Agreement: understanding the physical and social challenges for a warming world of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels'.
Keywords: 1.5°; electricity; integrating renewables; low carbon; socio-technical; transition; whole systems.
© 2018 The Author(s).