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Sociotechnical asymmetries in energy issues 
Convenors:
Ana Delicado (Lisbon University)
Luis Junqueira (ICS - University of Lisbon)
Alena Bleicher (Harz University of Applied Science)
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Theme:
Sustainability in transition
Format:
Location:
C. Humanisticum AB 2.08
Sessions:
Thursday 18 September, 9:30-11:15, 11:30-13:15, 15:00-16:45, 17:00-18:45 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

Multiple asymmetries can arise in the transition to sustainable energy systems and S&T can play a role in either alleviating or deepening them. This track aims to address energy technologies their interaction with government regulations, business strategies, everyday practices and values.

Long Abstract

Energy has gained a prominent place in environmental debates but also in scientific and technological ones. The transition to sustainable energy systems is thought to require not only the development, dissemination and adoption of technologies for clean generation and efficient use, but also substantive social transformations, from government regulations to business strategies, from everyday practices to values and world visions.

Multiple asymmetries can arise in relation to energy issues: between competing technologies of energy generation and distribution, receiving varying levels of research funding, government support or private investment; between the need for clean supply and an ever-growing demand of energy; between global benefits and local impacts of energy production; between technology-rich and technology-deprived countries that can or cannot make the most out of their energy resources; between communities and large companies in the market of energy supply; between social groups in the access to energy-efficient devices or even to energy itself (energy poverty).

Science and technology can play a role in either alleviating or deepening these asymmetries and can also be used as a rhetorical device in arguments about energy. Public engagement has been touted as a solution for energy disputes, but the balance of power tends to remain firmly on the side of experts, policy-makers or business interests, rather than consumers/users/citizens.

This track welcomes papers addressing any of these or other related themes, based on either theoretical or empirical approaches.

The papers will be presented in the order shown and grouped 3-3-3-4 between sessions

Accepted papers:

Author:

Les Levidow (The Open University)

Paper long abstract:

Research and policy frameworks have been elaborating the energy-water-food nexus to identify potential synergies across those three components. The nexus concept is meant to inform eco-innovation design and adoption, towards investment enhancing resource efficiency. By going further, the concept can also enrich socio-technical perspectives on decision-making processes for sustainability transitions (Grin, 2010).

Such perspectives inform the FP7 EcoWater project, which develops and applies whole-system eco-efficiency indicators in diverse water-service systems. The project has several aims - to compare the overall eco-efficiency of the baseline situation with improvement options, to identify their drivers & barriers, and thus to facilitate better decisions by investors and policymakers. Multi-stakeholder workshops discussed investment options.

Preliminary results: For future investment decisions, a key factor has been energy costs in various senses. Energy costs could be lowered by some options, e.g. by reducing the burdens of water abstraction or wastewater treatment. But energy costs could rise in other options - e.g. by removing hazardous micropollutants from urban water systems, by targeting irrigation water more efficiently on crops, and by minimising (or removing) excess heat from cooling water.

More fundamental socio-technical dynamics reveal asymmetrical incentives. Most investment options lie within current production-consumption patterns, whereby incremental eco-innovation offers only modest improvements (or even a potential rebound effect) in resource burdens. By contrast, major systemic changes (e.g. a shift to organic agriculture or district heating) would offer greater societal benefits - but lie beyond current institutional incentives and responsibilities.

Authors:

Henny van der Windt (University of Groningen)
Jasper Tonen (University of Groningen)
Tineke van der Schoor (Utrecht University)

Paper long abstract:

During the last decades, many energy local energy cooperatives have been established, particularly in Europe. This paper examines to what extent these cooperaticves may change the current energy system or will develop into niche markets. We will first describe what should be seen as central elements of the 'energy regime' and as central elements of the local energy cooperatives. Then we will review some examples of succesfull cooperatives from some European countries and from the Netherlands. It is concluded that it is far to early to draw robust conclusions, but it is also concluded that there are some good examples of cooperatives that really lead to socio-technological innovations. These innovations, however, are more rooted in practical experiences than in large scale R&D programs. Some of these cooperative-based-innovations really affect elements of existing energy regimes, such as storage and distrinution systems, ownerships relations and pricing systems. Other cooperatives, however, appear to be part of the existing regime. The design of some new promising sustainable energy technologies, for instance concerning so-called smart grids and wind turbines. are hardly to combine with the objectives of the energy cooperatives. It is most likely that during the coming decades the energy cooperatives will function as a space for experimentation and probably as a market niche in several European countries.

Authors:

Piotr Stankiewicz (Nicolaus Copernicus University)
Aleksandra Lis (Adam Mickiewicz University)

Paper long abstract:

The paper examines how risks of shale gas exploration and exploitation are framed in public discourse in Poland and how this impacts the emerging institutional order for shale gas governance. Data collected since 2012 through interviews, participant observation and media analysis are analyzed from the perspective of the risk governance. We propose to use the framing approach that has recently become an underlying concept of the performativity of economics thesis to examine how shale gas is being framed as an object of governance, in which spaces actors construct it as a 'risky object' and what implications it has for the emerging institutional order for shale gas governance at different administrative levels. The analysis concludes that at the central level shale gas is framed as a political and economic object and that the uncertainties related to the political role of shale gas in Poland's energy security and the ones related to the construction of shale gas as a commodity are addressed. At the same time, the central governance institutions allocate funding to create spaces for debating technological, environmental and societal risks at the local level. We examine risk frames in these locally established niches to show their diversity and analyze the kinds of practices of risk assessment that evolve in these spaces.

Authors:

Gordon Walker (Lancaster University)
Neil Simcock (Lancaster University)
Rosie Day (University of Birmingham)

Paper long abstract:

Technologies, infrastructures and associated institutional arrangements both reflect and contribute to the reproduction of their wider social and political context. In the case of energy, the sociotechnical systems of provision through which the 'end use' of energy is enabled, and energy services are provided, can embody both notions of basic need and inclusion, as well as unevenness and inequality in the quality and security of energy services that people can achieve. In this paper we analyse UK regulatory, institutional and infrastructural arrangements to reveal where, explicitly or implicitly, forms of individual and collective protection of access to energy and energy services are to be found - and by implication also where they are absent. These include metering and payment arrangements, infrastructural connection and disconnection, standards of service, collective provision of light and heat, subsidy and affordability measures. We reflect on these arrangements to consider what sociotechnical asymmetries are revealed - where are patterns of universal access, or protection of those most vulnerable or most in need located; and where are inequalities and patterns of differentiation enabled or actively being (re)produced?. Justice implications for both the ongoing patterning and dynamics of energy demand and for strategies of change in the energy system are explored.

Authors:

Ana Delicado (Lisbon University)
Elisabete Figueiredo (University of Aveiro)
Maria João Nunes (ICS Institute of Social Sciences)
Monica Truninger (Institute of Social Sciences University of Lisbon)

Paper long abstract:

In the past decade, much like other European countries, Portugal has experienced an outstanding development in renewable energy production. The ambitious target of 45% of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2010 was met and the percentage of renewable energies in total consumption is already 25% (the goal for 2020 is 31%), which places Portugal in the sixth place in the ranking of the 27 European Union member states (Eurostat, 2011).

This growth of renewable energies is mainly due to the sharp increase of wind energy: the weight of wind power in RE has risen from 3% in 2003 to 42% in 2013. This development can be attributed mainly to political measures, in particular generous feed-in tariff schemes, and the uptake by large electricity firms.

This presentation aims to understand how the political support (but also opposition) to renewable energy has been framed. Who are the actors involved in the debate? Which are the arguments used to justify policy measures (economic, environmental, climate related)? Which are the sectors and activities (energy generation, R&D, manufacture of equipment) that benefit from these measures (and which are left behind) and how is that vindicated? How are energy technologies portrayed in political discourse?

This presentation is supported by interviews and a qualitative analysis of document sources: legislation, policy documents, speeches in Parliament, news articles. The research is based on a project intituled "Sociotechnical consensus and controversies on renewable energy", funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (PTDC/CS-ECS/118877/2010).

Author:

Per Högselius (KTH Royal Institute of Technology)

Paper long abstract:

"Smart grids", understood as the integration of advanced information and communication technology into electricity (and other energy) systems, have made a remarkable career on the energy policy arena. In the course of only 6-7 years, the concept has not only managed to enter domestic and international energy debates throughout most of the world, but it has also gained far-reaching acceptance among a wide array of stakeholders, including electricity companies, governments, environmental organizations, regulating agencies and large-scale electricity users. For consumers, however, the smart grid concept often appears incomprehensible and contradictory. In particular, consumers often feel that it is very unclear what problems the new grids will solve. This paper sets out to identify the purpose of smart grids as seen from the perspective of different actors groups. Six different "purposes" of smart grids, as defined by the involved actors, are discussed. More precisely, stakeholders think that smart grids will (1) solve environmental problems; (2) increase security of supply; (3) strengthen the power of consumers; (4) boost utilities' profits and reputation; (5) improve the electricity market; and (6) deepen international relations. Indeed, the paper finds that there is a great extent of contradiction between these different purposes, but that this has not prevented powerful actors from skilfully exploiting the arguments of others in the broader energy policy debate.

Authors:

Georgia Gaye (IGEAT - Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Grégoire Wallenborn (Université Libre de Bruxelles)

Paper long abstract:

We are working on a research project on flexibility and smart grids in Belgium, in which participate engineers, economists and companies. As a team of designers and anthropologists we are sometimes at odd with this group that is grounded in different epistemic interests. This paper is a reflexive attempt at understanding what are the disciplinary asymmetries, how solidarity is organised between different disciplines, and what we can do as social scientists to do justice to our field observations.

We start with the analysis of the way concepts such as acceptance, resistance, engagement, appropriation, delegation, comfort, flexibility are used in the different disciplines. We show which explicit and implicit assumptions about users' capabilities reflect the disciplinary asymmetries. Users are patently absent from engineer's and economist's models, although they constitute obviously an important part of the smart grid development. Environmental considerations are also usually lacking in current development. In order to alleviate this asymmetry, we are forced to become spokespersons for the "weak actors" of the negotiation process between disciplines and constraints.

In order to examine how the dialogue between disciplines happens, we expand on the concepts of "boundary object" (Star & Griesemer 1989) and "obligation and requirement" (Stengers 2010) to explore how ideas and data are translated and articulated between the disciplines while maintaining asymmetries. For instance, anthropology requires us to transmit the fieldwork veracity. But our obligation is also to provide partners with manageable information. The construction of user "profiles" or "personas" is then a way to establish boundary objects between distinct research practices.

Author:

Meiken Hansen (Technical University of Denmark)

Paper long abstract:

This paper will focus on the asymmetries that occur when different consumer groups are presented to the same energy visualisation equipment. The studied technology is home automation/control equipment, designed to contribute to the general set up of smart grid (facilitate a flexible use of electricity and accommodate demand response). Large smart grid pilot projects suggest that energy visualisation technology will be a common part of households in the future. There exist numerous different visualisation technologies within the area of electricity and private consumers today.

This study seeks to contribute to the research on how shaping of technology affects consumers differently. In relation to the analysis of technology and consumers, I will draw upon the concept of script (Akrich 1992). The objective is to study how energy consumption is In-scripted in the objects (visualisation-technologies applied in the human actor's homes) and how the consumers interpret the technology (the De-scription of the object). In relation to the general goals of smart grid to change the consumption of electricity into being more flexible, it is relevant to investigate if different consumer groups accept and assign to the technology (Pre-script) or if they work against it (De-inscription). The empirical data for the paper is retrieved from an experimental project including 30 private households. The collected data consists of consumption data and semi-structured interviews.

Author:

Signe Svalgaard Nielsen (University of Copenhagen)

Paper long abstract:

As part of an ambitious plan for reducing CO2 emissions in Copenhagen, Denmark, the municipality of Copenhagen is obliged to obtain some massive reductions in the use of energy and water in households. This study supports this work by revealing necessary knowledge about some socio-cultural factors that prove of particular significance for influencing the use of energy and water in household practices of the everyday life.

Drawing on Actor-Network Theory, this paper explores the role of formal as well as informal social networks in forming household practices regarding use of energy and water. Taking as point of departure the materiality of energy- and water demanding activities I discuss how knowledge, ideas, norms and preferences are established and transmitted through social networks and thus influence the daily arrangements of household practices such as cooking, dishing, doing laundry, showering etc.

The study is based on extensive anthropological fieldwork including participant observation, semi structured interviews and photography. The geographic focus is on the district of Amager and private persons as well as municipal workers, property caretakers and local environmental initiatives contribute to the empirical material on which the paper is based.

Author:

Simon Bradbury (Plymouth Univeristy)

Paper long abstract:

Over the past decade there has been an increasing focus on the gap between predicted and as-built performance in new-build housing, which has led to a range of post completion and post occupancy studies. Absent to these studies is a detailed evaluation of how the design process shaped the performance gap. This paper looks at two prototype houses that were commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust and which have undergone co-heating testing to establish the fabric performance gap. Through the use of Actor-Network Theory the paper examines how the human and material-object 'actors' (client, design team, contractor, drawings, models and various regulations) interact in the negotiation, shaping and re-shaping of the building's fabric energy performance through the design and construction process. Both the changing energy performance through the design and construction of the buildings and the controversies of the actor networks are mapped. This shows how the asymmetries between different actors shifted re-defining the goals of the network and thus re-shaped the predicted energy performance and performance of the final buildings. The research in this paper reveals the drifting of goals as more actors are enrolled and the gaps that are revealed when moving from models to reality. It offers an insight into why our buildings never perform as we predict them to while providing a methodology for representing why this is the case.