The Bartlett School of Planning


The energy crisis, neoliberal energy, and the limits to a socio-ecological fix

Gareth Fearn in Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space

7 May 2023

View the paper on the Sage Journals website


The present energy crisis is one which is rooted in the contradictions of the neoliberalisation of energy. The UK is one of the pioneers of energy neoliberalisation and has been experimenting with different market arrangements since the 1980s, yet has found itself particularly exposed to the impacts of a global energy price shock. Through an analysis of policy documents, regulatory reports and historical energy policy literature, I identify how privatisation, regulatory experiments and market engineering under a neoliberal policy paradigm helped to create the conditions for the present crisis. Drawing on Hall's conception of policy paradigms, I argue that the neoliberal policy paradigm, for energy, is locked in a cycle of interventions at the second order to manage the contradictions of the third order priority of securing privatised energy markets and maintain legitimacy for the neoliberal energy system. The current energy crisis has led to the government making increasingly extreme second order interventions to stabilise the energy system to secure the interests of electricity capital and fossil capital. The present crisis, however, exposes the limits to a socio-ecological fix (for people, and for capital) within neoliberal hegemony.