This study investigates the sustainability and social equity impacts of the ongoing transition toward a low carbon society in Japan to assess the merits of top-down and bottom-up approaches. The research uses mixed methods, incorporating householder and energy expert surveys, scenario design utilizing the Japanese MARKAL/TIMES framework, and sustainability and social equity evaluation. Surveys identify householder energy system and participation preferences, alongside energy expert input on social equity and policy design. Scenario building is undertaken to compare energy system outcomes between the strategic Japanese policy approach and a user driven approach to energy transition, both cognizant of 2050 environmental goals. Both scenarios are comparatively assessed using a holistic sustainability evaluation process. Conclusions identify the impact of liberalization and subsequent householder participation in the energy system in Japan, when compared to a strategic, policy driven approach. Both approaches have positive ramifications on social equity and policy burden distribution outcomes. However, the household participation scenario delivers a more equitable outcome, distributing energy policy burdens in a fairer manner through the realization of an energy system which is safe, stable and affordable. The findings have practical applications in participatory policy design, and the development of energy policy which can achieve transition goals while being sensitive to householder preferences and social equity concerns.
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