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Accepted Paper:

To the edge: district heating, Big Tech and the aspiration of decentralisation  
Caroline Anna Salling (Technical University of Denmark)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the relation between Big Tech/smart tech and grids of district heating in Denmark. It argues that the infrastructures emerging from this relation are established through various constellations of the centralisation-decentralisation dichotomy and redoings of forms of ownership.

Paper long abstract:

'The grid edge' as a technical infrastructure has lately emerged through, amongst other things, the innovation of digital technologies. Accordingly, it is time to analytically consider which kinds of grids are referred to and where this 'edge' geographically and materially is placed. Whilst the political attention to decentralising energy and data infrastructures is increasing, the access to and ownership of digital data seems to be going through a general centralisation, mainly led by Big Tech. New hyper-scale data centres are being built across Denmark by the largest tech corporations. An important driver for this process is the belief that waste heat from data centres can be used for distribution through local district heating facilities. Many different institutions seem onboard with this imaginary, yet in practice things are taking shape, as municipalities are taking the opportunity to attract tech corporations and smart tech to cities, towns and empty fields, all located outside the capital area, which is seen as an act of reclaiming agency in times of centralisation. The governance of district heating involves public institutions, communities and both large and small energy plants, but is the heating transformed, or redistributed in terms of ownership, if suddenly produced by the storage and processing engines of Big Tech and not just the local energy plant? My paper suggests that in addition to 'edge' being a term for describing a technical infrastructure, the edge marks a place of transformation, a place of difference to the centre.

Panel P020
At the grid edge: homes, neighbourhoods and energy markets (Energy Anthropology Network)
  Session 1 Tuesday 21 July, 2020, -