Accepted Paper:

Towards a negotiation between disciplines in the development of electrical grids  

Author:

Grégoire Wallenborn (Université Libre de Bruxelles)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores how electrical grids are defined and performed by distinct scientific disciplines into partial ontologies, and suggests that an effective transformation of electrical infrastructures requires an ontological negotiation between these disciplines.

Paper long abstract:

The analysis of sociotechnical changes of energy systems involves the assemblage of a range of heterogeneous knowledge. In this paper, I explore how electrical grids are defined and performed by distinct scientific disciplines into partial ontologies, and I suggest that an effective transformation of electrical infrastructures requires an ontological negotiation between these disciplines. In a broad meaning of Kuhnian paradigm or Foucaldian episteme, a scientific discipline is a relatively coherent corpus of knowledge, based on a set of statements and practices. Human societies need certainly robust knowledge about how the world is made and is becoming. However, the building, maintenance and use of infrastructures rely on the production of knowledge practiced among various professional circles: engineers, economists, territorial administrations, sociologists, ecologists, etc.

The development of the electrical grid is a central piece of the energy transition, even if it is not always explicated. The transition towards low carbon sources of energy is generally considered as an increasing electrification of activities. Electricity appears as the best energy carrier between sources and end uses. As part of the energy transition, power grids are changing and sometimes called "smart grids". However, the analysis of dominant energy scenarios disclose their numerous omissions: socio-material configurations are absent because no knowledge from sociology or ecology is incorporated, and there is hardly anything on how governance is linked to specific territories and agency. The paper shows that the electrical grid is the site of elaboration between different kinds of interdependencies: territorial, technical, economic, social and ecological.

Panel T050
Conceptualizing transformational change in energy systems and the built environment