Experimenting with decentralized energy governance in China: The case of New Energy Demonstration City program

Jing Wu, Christian Zuidema, Katharina Gugerell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


A transition from a fossil fuel based energy system to a more sustainable energy system based more on renewables has been of increasing concern worldwide over the past decade. Such a transition has considerable spatial-physical and socioeconomic implications, suggesting area-based perspectives and related decentralized governance approaches as being crucial to complement, or partly replace, traditional centralized governance approaches. In response to implementation barriers to energy policies, China has also begun to experiment with more decentralized governance structures through the launch of national pilot programs. In the meantime, international studies have disputed the widely assumed benefits of decentralized approaches. Scholars have especially cautioned that decentralization needs to be informed about the degree to which local stakeholders are willing and able to cope with newly acquired responsibilities or tasks. This research investigates the willingness and ability of Chinese local authorities to perform tasks indicated in the pilot program ‘New Energy Demonstration City (NEDC)’. This research, involving four case study cities and over 20 expert interviews, noted only modest willingness and ability. Local performance is constrained by inadequate local technical and managerial ability and a possible weak profile of renewable energy compared to other local priorities, and a limited local scope of influence over energy transition-related challenges as well decreased local willingness and ability. This research concludes that decentralization under energy policies should take place within a context of central support and stimuli, highlighting the importance of national policies and regulations to enable and activate local authorities and stakeholders in pursuing energy transition policies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)830-838
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • Governance experimentation
  • New energy demonstration city program
  • Energy transition
  • China


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