Accepted paper:

A Multi-Scale Battle of Systems: Contested Heating and Energy Futures


Mark Winskel (University of Edinburgh)
Ronan Bolton (University of Edinbrugh)
David Hawkey (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Energy system futures are being contested across multiple scales. We analyse the contest over heating and energy systems futures across Scottish, UK and European scales, as articulated in policy statements, energy scenarios and modelling, and in stakeholder interviews and observation.

Paper long abstract:

In a context of distributed political institutions and identities, it is unsurprising that energy futures are being contested across different governance scales. As Erik Van der Vleuten and colleagues have observed, our age of European integration is also, paradoxically, the era of the nation-state, the region, and the city, with simultaneous system building on different scales. Rather than any coherent 'transition pathway', or any dominant version of 'system integration', what we see are varied and rather incoherent multi-scale dynamics, with different contributions offering alternative system boundaries, evidence bases and technological and organisational affiliations. As Paul Edwards has noted, developing an analytical perspective that can capture and understand multi-scale infrastructure dynamics is an important but formidable interdisciplinary challenge for social science.

Drawing on a number of related ongoing research projects, this paper offers a theoretically and empirically informed contribution to analysing multi-scale energy system battles. Empirically, the paper addresses the contest over low carbon heating infrastructures across Scottish, UK and European scales, as articulated in policy statements, energy scenarios and modelling, and in interviews and participant observation with policymakers and other stakeholders. Theoretically, the paper draws on the Large Technical Systems tradition in STS to develop a view of energy system change as contested process with multiple tensions and inconsistencies, across a variety of material, institutional and ideological bases. While these battles reflect wider contested national identities and political futures, they are not reducible to them - energy systems retain a transborder and transgressive quality, inviting a detailed socio-technical analysis.

panel T078
Contested energy futures and temporalities in retrospective: instruments and practices of forecasting and scenario work