Author:Mikkel Vindegg (University of Oslo)
Paper short abstract:
Exploring the materiality of energy carriers and its infrastructure is key to understanding energy consumption and the prospects for a renewable transition. I make this argument by comparing the provisioning and consumption of electricity, cooking gas (LPG), and petrol in a Nepali town.
Paper long abstract:
I compare the movement and consumption of electricity, gas, and petrol in a Nepali town called Lubhu. I argue that studies of energy consumption are partial at best, if they do not also attend to the materiality of available energy carriers and their related infrastructures. I will use this perspective to reveal challenges that are likely to surface in connection with a renewable energy transition in Lubhu. The abovementioned energy carriers and their infrastructures are de/centralized in different ways at different points during their journeys into local homes. All three of them have also been (varyingly) short in supply for years. Significantly, the potential for hydropower development in Nepal is great, but in 2016, it had been over a decade since there was enough electricity production to fulfil demand. However, despite years of frequent power outages, alternative electricity sources and off-grid solutions were not very common. I outline four main reasons for this: The "structural momentum" (Hughes 1983) of the state electricity grid, the high costs of decentralized alternatives (particularly solar power), a mismatch between solar energy production and local energy consumption practices, and the usefulness of fossil fuels. Both gas and petrol are easier to stock than electricity, and their supply is less centralized. This makes shortages easier (and less expensive) to deal with. In other words, gas and petrol become more flexible than electricity. Therefore, they are exceptionally useful, at least in a country where climate change is "barely on the radar" (Sharma 2016).
Energy in motion [Energy Anthropology Network]