International Political Economy and Renewable Energy: Hydroelectric Power and the Resource Curse

International Studies Review, vix058, doi/10.1093/isr/vix058

Posted: 15 Feb 2018

See all articles by Kathleen J. Hancock

Kathleen J. Hancock

Colorado School of Mines

Benjamin K. Sovacool

Science Policy Research Unit; Department of Business Technology & Development

Date Written: February 3, 2018


One of the most-studied issues regarding the role of natural resources in development is the so-called “resource curse”: the paradoxical (and contested) situation in which a state with abundant resources has low rates of economic growth per capita, high levels of income inequality, low levels of democracy, high gender inequality, and high levels of domestic and international conflicts surrounding resources. Although the term seems to imply that the curse can apply to all resources, most research by political scientists, as well as by economists and other social scientists, examines the role of oil and hard minerals and omits many resources, including renewable energy resources. We argue that many of the causal mechanisms behind the curse, when it does manifest, hold for water-abundant states which have sufficient resources to create large hydroelectric projects. Drawing on illustrative examples of hydroelectric projects around the world, we demonstrate sufficient, albeit preliminary, evidence that most aspects of the resource curse literature apply to hydroelectric projects, at least in some states, and thus suggest the curse literature should be expanded to include water-abundance. Additionally, we add a new factor — fluctuating fuel supply — which could be an important variable for other resources as well. We conclude with suggestions for developing a research agenda and discuss policies to reduce the negative effects of the resource curse.

Keywords: renewable energy, hydroelectric power, resource curse, international political economy

Suggested Citation

Hancock, Kathleen J. and Sovacool, Benjamin K., International Political Economy and Renewable Energy: Hydroelectric Power and the Resource Curse (February 3, 2018). International Studies Review, vix058, doi/10.1093/isr/vix058, Available at SSRN:

Kathleen J. Hancock (Contact Author)

Colorado School of Mines ( email )

Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
1005 14th Street
Golden, CO 80401
United States
303-384-2407 (Phone)

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Benjamin K. Sovacool

Science Policy Research Unit ( email )

Falmer, Brighton BN1 9SL
United Kingdom


Department of Business Technology & Development ( email )

Nordre Ringgade 1
Aarhus C, DK-8000


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