It seems generally accepted that change will occur in global energy systems. There also appears to be consensus on the kinds of changes that may possible for the future, even though there may be disagreement over the exact mix of technologies and policies needed to increase sustainability or mitigate climate change. The terms transition and transformation have both been used to denote the type of change needed in large socio-technical systems. However, the terms have been used both in contradiction of each other and synonymously by different authors. A comprehensive review of both theory and usage in scientific publications was conducted to determine if the terms have been used to denote fundamentally different concepts and if the concept of change is framed differently by usage so as to affect understanding. Despite two camps being readily identifiable, it was concluded that the terms generally refer to the same fundamental concept. At the same time, framing of the concept can be viewed as somewhat different, resulting in a potential for confusion on the part of the reader that may detract from achieving the outcome of change. It is suggested that change to physical forms and systems be denoted as transformations, and that changes to large socio-technical systems be denoted as transitions when the focus is on a higher order of change that highlights the ways that society motivates, facilitates, and benefits from change.