(A11)
Encountering energy in systems and everyday spaces
Location Faraday Lecture Theatre (Faraday Complex)
Date and Start Time 26 Jul, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 3

Convenors

  • Karen Henwood (Cardiff University) email
  • Eefje Cuppen (Delft University of Technology) email
  • Nick Pidgeon (Cardiff University) email

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Short abstract

The panel will debate everyday, emplaced encounters with energy systems & technologies undergoing a period of rapid transition, the environmental risk issues & uncertainties they raise for citizens, scientists and society, and engage with different levels of governing energy system transformation.

Long abstract

The environmental imperative of accelerating climate change means that energy systems and their associated technologies are undergoing a period of rapid transition. These changes will involve diverse everyday encounters with new forms of renewable energy and storage systems, carbon sequestration and geological imaginaries, and flexible socio-technical energy systems in relation to future 'smart' living. These energy system changes have uncertain implications for citizens, scientists and society. They will create novel encounters with infrastructures and everyday spaces of energy production and consumption, bringing material and symbolic aspects of emplaced encounters to the fore in energy system transformations. The panel will debate such encounters, the uncertainties they raise around risk issues, the ways in which they are lived by people and projected into the future, and their implications for conflicts around whole energy systems change. We welcome papers which engage with these issues through theoretical lenses for capturing the normative diversity and values implicated in system change, the temporal dynamics of change, and complex forms of subjectivity (stabilising and destabilising around environmental, technological, and other identities). 'Encounters' with energy systems in these terms do not just take place in everyday life, but on different levels of governing energy system transformation, including individual, organisational, network, and institutional. Papers will explore different types of contributions, e.g. related to energy siting conflicts, their institutional embedding, the extraordinary and ordinary in encounters with energy systems, energy practices and psycho-social dynamics, governance and public engagement strategies and practices, and inter- and intra-organisational encounters in energy systems.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Heating controllers as boundary objects between homes and energy infrastructures

Authors: Clare Hanmer (University College London) email
Charlotte Johnson (University College London) email
Michelle Shipworth (University College London) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores UK household experiences of heating controllers that are interacting with the supply infrastructure The focus is on the heating controller as a "boundary object" between the smart networked future envisioned by the designers and the bounded home experienced by the residents.

Long abstract

In the UK, where most homes are heated using gas, a transition to electric heating features in scenarios for a low carbon future, but would place an extra burden on the UK's electricity network at times of peak demand. Heating controllers with algorithms to respond to network constraints have the potential to align domestic heating systems with the daily peaks and troughs of national and local electricity demand. These smart controllers require householders to set the temperatures and times they want in their homes, while being flexible about when the heating operates to provide this service (e.g. pre-heating ahead of peak demand times).

This paper explores household experiences of controllers that are interacting with the supply infrastructure as well as being used by the householders to control new heating technology. It is based on empirical data from homes participating in UK trials of smart heating controls. Interviews with participants explore how residents engage with and interpret the technology and its effect on their homes and themselves. The focus is on the heating controller as a "boundary object" between the smart networked future envisioned by the designers and the bounded home with manageable costs and comforts experienced by the residents. The extent to which the interpretative flexibility allowed by the heating controller supports the alignment of household preferences with network optimization is discussed.

Creating energy encounters with experts: a cultural probes-based approach

Authors: Nick Pidgeon (Cardiff University) email
Karen Henwood (Cardiff University) email
Christopher Groves (Cardiff University) email
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Short abstract

Expert interviews in STS are often used to elicit implicit imaginaries and values. In relation to expert interviews around anticipated energy transitions, we show how the use of 'cultural probes' can not only help elicit assumptions about values, but also encourage reflexivity towards them.

Long abstract

The sociology of expectations has helped us understand how future visions of socio-technical transitions are shaped by implicit value assumptions. Exploring these assumptions can help actors to be more conscious of how future visions can exclude values held by other social actors, and thus create justice concerns.

We report on an approach developed by social scientists on the Flexis project in Wales (http://flexis.wales) that allow expert interviews to open up broader discussion of which energy values may be pertinent to the future energy system. Based on concepts of 'aesthetic reflexivity' (Lash and Urry 1994), this uses methodology inspired by a 'cultural probes' approach (Gaver, Dunne, and Pacenti 1999) to provoke reflection from experts on how energy relates to more personal and interpersonal dimensions of experience. Interviews to explore imaginaries of the future energy system were conducted with 20 experts (including principal investigators, senior researchers and delivery partners from the public and private sectors) involved with the Flexis whole-systems energy project.

A postcard task preceding the interview explored personal experiences that gave rise to hope and anxiety about the future. Subsequently, the postcards were used within interviews as material 'souvenirs' (Gordon 1986) of affectively-coloured reminiscences. The interviews then explored how such artefacts can help enlarge the meaning of anticipated energy transitions by evoking 'lived futures' (Adam and Groves 2007) within more professionalised discussion of future visions. We suggest that traditional modes of value elicitation can thus be enhanced by using affectively-charged materials that enhance opportunities for reflexivity.

When institutions do not help: making and mending sustainable energy systems at home

Author: Alice Dal Gobbo (Cardiff University) email
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Short abstract

In the context of decarbonisation, institutional energy systems' change lags behind the inventiveness of everyday life assemblages. Here, practices of creative rediscovery, recycling and care produce "primitive technologies" that are low-carbon but also enable affectively rich experiences of energy.

Long abstract

Many debates today centre around how people's lives might be impacted by, and react to, infrastructural changes in energy provision systems towards decarbonisation. I consider the somewhat opposite case: when institutions lag behind and actors concerned with the environmental sustainability of their own energy practices come up with household-level creative solutions. With the help of ethnographic material from my study on everyday energy transitions in the North East of Italy, I reflect on how practices such as repairing old appliances, care for objects, inventive make-do with recycled materials, re-discovery of traditional energy systems, etc. are deployed to reduce environmental impact. These "primitive technologies" (partially) compensate for the unsustainability of grid energy (mainly based on non-renewables) and resist entrenched carbon-intensive energy consumption and a culture of disposability. Yet arguably, they also offer an alternative to a certain blind chase towards "greening" technological innovation (e.g. "smart technologies") - whose efficacy is nowadays still contested/-able. In the perspective of "assemblages", I investigate primitive technologies as they dynamically emerge out of a coalescing encounter between the affordances of human beings, objects, embodied cultures, systems of meaning - all of which are actualised in a present at the crossroads of past and future lines of becoming. I would also like to reflect, in a psycho-social vein, on how these micro-energy systems become doubly precious as their proximity to the singularity of each livelihood makes them not only sustainable but also affectively intense and therefore a source of enrichment for daily experiences of energy.

Techno-scientific promises as a negation of the future. The case of Enhanced Geothermal Systems

Author: Olivier Ejderyan (ETH Zurich) email
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Short abstract

This paper contributes to discussions on performances of socio-technical imaginaries. It examines the effects of promises of access to cheap, unlimited and regular power through enhanced geothermal systems (EGS).

Long abstract

This paper contributes to discussions on performances of socio-technical imaginaries. It examines the effects of promises of access to cheap, unlimited and regular power through enhanced geothermal systems (EGS).

Research on the sociology of expectations highlighted how projections into the future shape paths of technological innovation. Among such projections, techno-scientific promises are specific because they explicitly aim to actualize the future they enunciate by delivering a promised innovation. The current proliferation of such promises has resulted in what some call a regime of promises. In such a regime, promises of futures made possible by technological innovation become a key element for fostering public support and securing resources.

EGS are a set of technologies to extract heat for power generation independently from tectonic formations. They come with a series of low-probability/ high-consequences types of risks such as induced seismicity. Hence their deployment has led to local public opposition. Based on an analysis of text and visual material from EGS projects, I show that to secure policy support and investments, EGS developers promise a future of abundant low-carbon electricity. In short, a future in which global warming has been tamed and people can live/consume as in the present. This implies a restrictive conception of the public as "enlightened" and capable of weighing risks and benefits. I argue that one effect of the promises of EGS is to negate the future as well as alternative forms of publics potentially called into being through debates on the decarbonization of energy production.

Korean traditional beliefs and energy transition: pungsu, shamanism, and the local perception of wind turbines

Author: Eun-Sung Kim (Kyung Hee University) email
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Short abstract

This article examines the relationship between Korean traditional beliefs such as pungsu theory and shamanism and local opposition to wind farms. It presents a unique Asian story on the local understanding of mountains and winds, as well as wind turbines, their noises and light.

Long abstract

Onshore wind farms are constructed in mountainous rural villages where indigenous elderly people still believe in Korean traditional beliefs such as pungsu thought and shamanism. Built upon qualitative interviews with local residents in 7 villages near South Korean wind farms, this research examines the relationship between Korean traditional beliefs such as pungsu thought and shamanism and local opposition to wind farms. First, the interpretation of mountains and wind based on pungsu clashes with the favorable discourses on wind turbines. From the pungsu viewpoint, the wind turbine is considered similar to the iron stakes put on renowned Korean mountains by Japanese imperialists to block the national spirit of Korea during the Japanese colonial era. A straight, strong wind with high-energy efficiency for wind power generation is considered inauspicious in terms of pungsu. Second, the power of pungsu in local opposition to wind farms is more influential in a clan community on mountainous areas with a high proportion of elderly population. Third, senses correlate with religion in shaping the perception of wind energy. The strong noise of wind turbines is a reminder of bad memories related to the inauspicious winds associated with ghosts or dogaebbi deities. Some elderly residents also view the light of the wind turbines as the fire of the dogaebbi. Pungsu and Korean shamanism present a unique story on the local acceptance of wind farms that has never been heard in the Western debates on wind farms.

Nuancing NIMBYism: examining perspectives on the practice of community engagement in energy projects

Authors: Elisabeth van de Grift (Delft University of Technology) email
Shannon Spruit (Delft University of Technology) email
Eefje Cuppen (Delft University of Technology) email
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Short abstract

Energy projects often encounter opposition. In this paper we address encounters of professionals working on community engagement in such projects. We used Q methodology to uncover the diversity of perspectives of this group on their own practice as intermediary between different actors.

Long abstract

The planning and implementation of energy technologies is often challenged by public controversy and local opposition surrounding new projects. The current literature on controversial energy projects shows a strong focus on public stakeholders. However, literature addressing actors involved with project development is quite scarce. Therefore this paper focusses on professionals in the energy sector who are tasked with community engagement. This professional community consists, amongst others, of consultants, project developers and government employees.

Such actors find themselves at multiple intersections involving both inter- and intra-organisational encounters: they are tasked with the implementation of the community engagement policy of the organisation they represent, focussing on communities within a local energy landscape they are proposing changes to. This also involves conveying input from communities to internal organisational stakeholders. As such, we use the concept of front-line workers (Durose 2009) to work towards a deeper understanding of this group and their practice navigating encounters on these multiple-way streets.

In this paper we analyse the diversity of perspectives front-line workers have regarding their own practice. We used Q methodology to discern perspectives amongst front-line workers in the Dutch energy sector. The Q study, based on ethnographic data from multiple case studies, consists of 30 interviews with front-line workers working on energy technologies and related infrastructure. In the light of this finer grained understanding of encounters in energy projects between different types of actors, we also discuss how these insights can contribute to more responsible decision-making in such projects.

Smart solutions, private households and control; a case study of experimental projects

Authors: Sophie Nyborg (Technical University of Denmark) email
Meiken Hansen (Technical University of Denmark) email
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Short abstract

The concept of 'control' of energy consumption is an important phenomenon on the smart grid arena, yet it remains understudied. Through an ANT approach this paper traces interactions relating to control in three smart grid cases, thus enhancing our knowledge on the current energy system transition

Long abstract

Over the last decade, energy research has turned its focus on smart grid's ability of increasing the flexibility in the energy system, allowing a growing amount of fluctuating renewables in the energy mix. A main part of achieving flexibility is through various control mechanisms of energy consuming devices on the consumer side.

Previous research on how smart grid technologies are domesticated in households has revealed that the design of remote control promotes preferences for unengaged consumers that do not actively take an interest in controlling their electricity consumption (Hansen & Hauge, 2017). Others have pointed out that smart grid devices may concentrate control in one householder's hands (Hargreaves & Wilson, 2017) and furthermore change power relations in families (Nyborg, 2015). However, there is clearly a lack of studies that try to understand how the concept of control is discussed and developed across a number of smart grid demonstration projects. There is a need to understand the different control concepts that are being negotiated among leading actors on the smart grid arena and how the households are responding to them.

This paper seeks to address this gap by inquiring into the types of control affecting private households and by tracing the interactions in three influential Danish cases of smart grid experimental projects: EFlex (2011-2012); Insero Live Lab (2013 -2015); and EnergyLab Nordhavn (2018 - 2019), thus embracing an actor-network theory perspective. This knowledge will increase our understanding of current challenges related to the dissemination of smart grid technologies in Denmark.

Switching things on and off: encountering and monetising demand-responsiveness in dispersed electricity-using technologies

Author: Mette Kragh-Furbo (Lancaster University) email
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Short abstract

Energy systems are being reworked to enable electricty demand to become temporally responsive to pressures on supply. We draw on STS theorisation to examine processes by which energy-using assets are being 'hunted down', valued and monetised not for their productivity but for their non-use.

Long abstract

One of the many ways in which energy systems are being reworked is in terms of shifting relationships between electricity demand and supply. From demand being taken largely as given, there is now a spreading enactment of new forms and methods of 'balancing', in which demand becomes temporally responsive to both patterns of peak creation and to fluctuations in supply from renewable energy sources. Whilst there are various ways in which demand responsiveness can be pursued and practised, currently operational schemes in the UK and elsewhere entail enrolling dispersed and mundane electricity using technologies into monetised and contractual relations with electricity market mechanisms. In these schemes electricity-using consumers and intermediary aggregators are able to generate monetary value through 'not demanding what they normally would do', in response to signals and incentives from those managing the electricity grid. We draw on STS theorisations of valuation, marketization and evidence-making and empirical research focused on actors engaged in materialising and participating in demand response schemes within businesses and large organisations in the UK, to consider the processes through which flexibly deployable assets are being 'hunted down', valued and monetised not for their productivity but for their non-use.

Using boundary object-theory as a framework for understanding adoption of renewable energy innovations in housing: building and HPAC -plan

Authors: Mika Nieminen (VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland) email
Maria Akerman (VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland) email
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Short abstract

The paper explores the potential of the concept of boundary object in shedding light on the dynamics of introducing disruptive modes of distributed energy production for builders with a particular attention to translating expertise across professional spheres and between consumers and experts.

Long abstract

In recent STS discussions on sustainability transitions, systemic perspectives (e.g. Seyfang & Axeltine 2012) and social acceptance have been identified as major factors in adopting renewable energy innovations (e.g. Wustenhagen et al. 2007; Ruggiero et al. 2014). This is in-line with the findings of our case study on energy choices made at the construction phase of buildings in Finland. It seems that considering energy choices other than business as usual falls into the blind spot in the expert communication between key actors of construction process, namely architects, HVAC designers, construction companies, energy suppliers and consumers. Following from this, we claim that micro level interaction between various actors in the design and construction phase of building is a key factor in the systemic transition towards renewable energy in building sector. This emphasises the importance of intercultural communication between different communities of practice and social worlds. Based on our case study, our paper explores the potential of the concept of boundary object in shedding light on the dynamics of introducing disruptive modes of distributed energy production for builders with a particular attention to translating expertise across various professional spheres and between consumers and experts.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.