EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

(W050)

Uncertain futures: the cultural dynamics of energy transition

Location V408
Date and Start Time 12 Jul, 2012 at 11:30

Convenors

Dorle Dracklé (University of Bremen) email
Ana Isabel Afonso (FCSH - Universidade Nova de Lisboa) email
Werner Krauss (University of Hamburg) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This workshop will contribute to an emerging anthropology of energy. Starting from the recent German "Energiewende" we will discuss case studies of energy transitions, and ask how these transformations change the net of power lines in a political and energetic sense.

Long Abstract

In times of climate change, energy supply is one of the greatest challenges, and its future direction is more open than ever. While energy is discussed mostly in terms of engineering and spatial planning, this workshop seeks to capture the cultural dynamics of this transformation.

The local nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima had global repercussions. The most spectacular one maybe in Germany, where the government surprisingly announced a nuclear phase out and put its bets on renewable energies. The so-called Western world discusses green alternatives, but in the developing countries great parts of the population are still not connected to electricity at all; the challenges are on all levels, and transformations point into different directions.

While our energy future is a global challenge, the energy transitions will be implemented locally. Agrarian landscapes are turned into energy landscapes, producing bio-fuel, wind energy, solar energy, bio-mass etc. Local power structures will be connected to or disconnect themselves from transnational power lines; new infrastructures will emerge or old ones will be transformed; power lines in the energetic and political sense will rapidly change the face of societies.

In this workshop, we will present case studies including both the global and the local dimension of energy transitions of all kinds from a multi-sited perspective. The anthropology of energy allows to reflect on the uncertain futures of energy transitions in an ever more connected world.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Electricity as a cultural concept implicated in everyday practices: a comparison of French and Norwegian responses to policy appeals for sustainable energy

Authors: Tanja Winther (University of Oslo)  email
Sophie Bouly de Lesdain (EDF-associée EHESS/IIAC/LAU (associated))  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

This paper examines the relationship between people’s perceptions and uses of electricity in Norway and France and current, global discourses. In particular, we investigate people’s responses to appeals to reduce energy consumption and an information program promoting renewable electricity.

Long Abstract

Positioned in the midst of global and national discourses on sustainable development, ordinary men and women are also engaged in social practices of everyday life. How do people perceive the threats embedded in current discourses and how do they link these to their own lives? How do they respond to policies intended to modify their consumption in a sustainable direction and how do such policies match realities in everyday life? By focusing on electricity in Norway and France and people's perceptions and uses thereof, this paper seeks to uncover some of the links and disconnections between global discourses on sustainable energy and the cultural practices in which energy is embedded. In particular, we investigate people's responses to appeals to reduce energy consumption and an information program which was launched to make people purchase renewable electricity.

Material has been collected through interviews and focus group discussions in Norway and France in 2009 in 2011. The paper also draws on the authors' ethnographic work on energy in other contexts.

Smart grids: evolving relations between suppliers and consumers

Authors: Mark Lawson  email
Sandra Bell (Durham University)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

This paper considers the relationship between consumers and suppliers in the context of smart grids, proposing that smart grids comprise of both smart technologies and smart consumers. The paper explores the role electrical distributors play in promoting or restricting interactivity on the grid.

Long Abstract

It is expected that the transition to a low carbon future will involved major changes to the way energy is supplied and consumed [DECC 2009a]. At the centre of this change is the transformation of the electrical distribution system to a "smart grid", with the potential to enable consumers to become more active and engaged in the infrastructure of provision. [DECC 2009b].

Over recent decades electrical distribution networks have been designed around a passive mode of operation, scaled to meet system peaks and are based on the assumption that the needs of passive consumers are non-negotiable and incontrovertible. Embedded within the physical infrastructure is a representation of consumers' roles in the provision of electricity and how demand is managed [Vilet et al. 2005].

This mode of organisation is challenged by the new smart grid paradigm, which promotes a more active management of the network and represents an opportunity for utilities to draw consumers back into view and engage them as the co-managers of demand, rather than the passive beneficiaries of supply [Gellings 1996].

In this paper we explore how people's consumption shapes network development and how network development shapes consumption. We explore the concept of "smart" from the perspective of physical network technologies as well as its application to electrical consumers. We discuss how distributors conceptualise consumers. How these conceptions impact on the ways in which networks are designed and operated. We also ask how smart the electricity industry and energy policy makers might want consumers to become.

Energy hacking: self-possessing the future of energy

Author: Dorien Zandbergen (University of Amsterdam)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

This paper explores the practices and ideologies of energy self-subsistence as now vibrantly explored by global techno-elites. How is such "energy-hacking" influencing the shifting institutional domains of energy-production and consumption in the future?

Long Abstract

This paper explores the practices and ideologies of "energy-hacking". The term "hacking" is generally used to refer to people who are virtuose with information technology. Yet, as shaped in the course of the past few decades by global networks of techno-elites, the notion has come to encompass all modes of activity and thought that demand radical access to sources deemed meaningful for self-possessed living in post-industrial societies. These sources may be informatic, but also concern food and energy. Energy-hacking then, refers to the ideal and the set of practices that are oriented towards energy self-subsistence. "Energy", just like "information", is hereby considered to be a resource that in its very nature resists corporatization. Energy-hacking, in this regard, is a form of ethical behavior, seeking to reappropriate energy from corporate and governmental involvement and giving it "back" to individuals.

This paper looks at the practices of energy-hacking as it is unfolding in sensor-connected online networks, at geek-conferences and at "fablabs" all over the world. Such practices include the building of solar-paneled vehicles, the growing of energy-producing micro-biological environments, and the use of potatoes to fuel electronic clocks. This paper seeks to understand how such practices of energy-hacking may influence the shifting institutional domains of energy-production and consumption in the future. Can we learn something in this regard from the relationship that computer hackers now appear to have to the larger "information society"?

Fluid destinies: politics of water in the eastern Black Sea region of Turkey

Author: Erdem Evren (Zentrum Moderner Orient)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

This paper looks at the interaction between hydro-power energy investments and oppositional politics of water in the context of the eastern Black Sea region of Turkey. I will focus on the changes affecting the lived environment and the transformations of political subjectivities.

Long Abstract

Despite renewed fears about the Islamist-conservative credentials of Turkey's ruling Justice and Progress Party (AKP), the party's distinct mark in the past decade has actually been a rampant developmentalism that is drastically transforming the rural and the urban settings alike. An ambitious series of projects concerning hydro-power currently raises strong opposition from a mixed coalition of people including socialists, anarchists, environmentalists, peasants, Kurdish activists and professional middle classes around the country. As of now, there are 2000 small-scale hydro-electric plants capable of producing energy. In total, 10,000 of these plants are planned to be completed until 2020 which will by then constitute a quarter of the total energy production of the country. Local activist initiatives established in different parts of the country resist against these projects on the grounds of deforestation, decreasing access to the commons, loss of water, and damage on biodiversity, through legal interventions and popular protests. I will look at the changes in the lived environment that take place as a result of the shifting constellations of nature, energy and politics. Based on my research on the eastern Black Sea region, I study the interaction between the economic reorganization of energy resources and the oppositional political practices to understand how social and spatial relations are transformed. The material restructuring of valleys and rivers via the construction of hydro-power plants, I will argue, has a transformative effect on the political subjectivities of the local people, eliciting a number of new perceptions, ambitions and desires.

Media and citizen representations of solar energy: the case of the Solar Mediterranean Plan

Author: Marta Severo (Université de Paris 1, GIS CIST)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

The debate about renewable energy has overflowed academic laboratories to involve wider publics. One exemplar case is the debate about the Mediterranean Solar Plan (MSP) that combines political, technical and social issues. This communication aims at analysing the representations of the MSP in the media.

Long Abstract

In the last few years, the debate about renewable energy, particularly solar energy, has overflowed academic laboratories to involve wider publics, such as politicians et enterprises attracted by the increasing funds allocated to such sector, and citizens facing the menace of climate change and coping with the emergence of these new forms of energy.

One exemplar case is the communication about the Mediterranean Solar Plan (MSP). Facing the energy demand and climate change challenges, Euro-Mediterranean countries launched in 2008 the MSP as a new form of cooperation between the two shores of the Mediterranean Sea to increase the production and the use of solar energy. Today, this plan constitutes one of the main techno-scientific challenges investing the Mediterranean area.

The controversy around the Mediterranean Solar Plan combines the political issues related to the development of the Union for the Mediterranean (the Germany-France relation, the North and South divide), the technical issues related to industrial projects as Desertec and Medgrid (photovoltaic vs thermal concentration, transport infrastructure vs on-site technology…) and the social issues related to changes in the production and consumption of energy affecting local population.

This communication aims at analysing the representations of the MSP in the media, by identifying the controversial issues and by focusing on how they are presented by different media, journals and portals as well as blogs and social media. The media discourse will be compared with both the official communication about the project (press released, technical and government reports…) and citizen communication as it emerges in the Web 2.0.

"Coming of Age in Germany" - from local tinkerers to green capitalism: energy transition in Germany

Author: Oliver Hinkelbein (University of Bremen)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

Based on ethnographic case studies the paper shows the cultural dynamics of energy transition in Germany. The papers main argument is that the assemblage of actors, their power relations, practices and the struggle for commons is the key to understand energy transition and green capitalism.

Long Abstract

More than 30 years ago local tinkerers started to develop wind turbines to produce their own clean energy. This time symbolizes the advent of energy transition in Germany. In the past decades a tremendous economic transformation, accompanied by drastic cultural and political changes, occurred. Today so-called green energy technologies like wind-power, biomass, water-power and solar-energy have matured and are driving forces of an emerging green capitalism. Whole regions like the Federal State of Bremen, the coastal regions of the North and Baltic Sea and the East Friesian Islands experience transitions in local culture, politics, economy, science, and infrastructure.

Based on ethnographic case studies in the North West of Germany and on the East Friesian islands the paper argues that energy transition is not only a political program to protect the planet from climate change. It is much more a western approach of development that aims to negotiate the tremendous economic and political crisis we are confronted with. Thus, new energy technologies are means to deal with an uncertain future. The whole development is marked by vivid cultural dynamics that are shaped by the dreams, practices and narrations of actors like cultural brokers, scientists, politicians, engineers, managers, and inhabitants of cities, coasts and islands - as well as by "things" like wind turbines, ships, solar panels and submarine cables. The main argument of the paper is that the assemblage of these actors, their power relations, practices and the struggle for commons is the key to understand energy transition and green capitalism. The paper shows the cultural dynamics and the processes of how alternative energy technologies have come of age in Germany.

Solar collectors, heritage buildings, and the altering of private and public space

Author: Annette Henning (Dalarna University)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

Dwellers in the World Heritage town of Visby claim their right to place solar collectors on their roofs. The paper discusses differing perspectives on two national interests; the preservation of historic buildings, and the shift towards more energy efficient heating systems and renewable energies.

Long Abstract

The paper is based on a case study in Visby, a walled Hanseatic town and World Heritage Site on the island of Gotland, Sweden. This well-kept town, with streets and buildings dating back to mediaeval times, is still fully alive with dwellers, shops, restaurants and working-places. One background to this project is the fact that, until recently, historic buildings have been more or less excepted from energy efficiency regulations. However, due to an increasing deterioration or insensitive renovation of this heritage, the Swedish Government has decided to change this state of affair. A basic purpose of the presented research has been to investigate the congruity of two Swedish national interests; the one being preservation of historic buildings, the other a shift towards more energy efficient heating systems and renewable energies. A particular focus has been on disagreements concerning the appropriateness of situating solar collectors on heritage buildings. Anthropological methods were used to investigate varying ways of perceiving historic buildings used as homes, and solar energy as a possible heating solution for such homes. Varying ways of balancing change and preservation of these dwellings depend on professional training as well as perceptions of aesthetics and convenience. They are influenced by a building's educational and illustrative power or by its function as a dwelling. The discussions link differing opinions on solar collectors and buildings to vague or overlapping boundaries between private and public space; in terms of geography as well as ownership, responsibility, and economic, political and statutory power.

Dignity, sustainability, peripheries: wind farm development in Southern Catalonia

Author: Jaume Franquesa (University at Buffalo-SUNY)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

Based on ethnographic research on wind farm development in Southern Catalonia, the central aim of the paper is to question and complicate the common assumption that renewable energy sources represent a stark break with other forms of energy production.

Long Abstract

Throughout the last decade, Spain has become one of the main producers of wind energy in Europe, in a process that has been progressively dominated by large corporations and a strong intervention from the state. Although justified by the need to achieve both (global) environmental and (national) economic sustainability, wind farms pose challenges to the social and economic viability of the areas where they are placed. This paper analyzes this process in one such area, Southern Catalonia, an impoverished agricultural area where the opposition to wind farm development has been articulated through the notion of dignity. The peripheral position of Southern Catalonia is connected to the fact that it has historically been a main area of energy production: hydroelectric dams, nuclear power plants, and more recently wind farms, scattered throughout the territory, are witness to the changes in the political economy of energy production in Spain during the last 50 years. Thus, while wind farms may in a future bring the dismantling of other forms of energy production such as nuclear power plants, the presence of wind farms in Southern Catalonia responds to the presence of nuclear power plants, not to their displacement, and local residents fear they may contribute to further peripheralize the area and threaten their livelihoods.

In the shadow of two states: rural electrification in the occupied West Bank

Author: Dan Rabinowitz (Tel Aviv University and CEU)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

The paper reviews a recent drive to provide semi-nomadic Palestinian peasants and Bedouin living in the arid hills east of Hebron with solar panels and wind turbine for power generation. Funded by international donations, led by Israeli peace activists and implemented with active participation of members of the community itself, the initiative has so far installed domestic generation systems in more than 200 households. The history of the project, its current state and future projection reflect the promises and pitfalls typical of rural electrification projects globally. The particular complexities of running such a project under occupation affords a glimpse into the contradictions, existential issues and counter-intuitive alliances associated with the occupation.

Long Abstract

The infrastructural disparity between the Western part of Israel/Palestine and the arid belt on the eastern margin of the land condemned Palestinian semi-nomadic and transhumant population in the east to isolation and impoverishment. Consistently harassed by Israel, which sees their presence as a threat to its sovereignty in the occupied territories and a potential obstacle for future Jewish settlement, such communities were soon marginalized by the Palestinian proto-state as well. Lying beyond the reaches of the limited financial and infrastructure capabilities of the Palestinian Authority, their efforts to maintain traditional economic activity and cultural continuity now face major difficulties.

The paper reviews a recent drive to provide hamlets in Masfarat Yata (the desert area south and east of Hebron) with solar panels and wind turbine for power generation. Funded by international donations, led by Israeli peace activists and implemented with active participation of members of the community itself employed by the project, the initiative so far installed small scale renewable energy systems in more than 200 households. Its history, current state and future projection reflect the promises and pitfalls typical of rural electrification projects globally. The complexities of running such a project under occupation provide a prism to the contradictions, existential issues and counter-intuitive alliances engendered by the interface between the Israeli occupation and the survival needs of Palestinians.

Environmental governance of energy in New Caledonia

Author: Peter Lindenmann (University of Basel)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

In New Caledonia governance arrangements concerning the consumption of energy have to be constantly renegotiated in this period of rising prices. Rural people in this French overseas territory find themselves at the very end of the supply chain and have to use their agency to find creative solutions addressing the question of paying for energy, of access to services as well as of maintaining or gaining an entry into the contemporary digital lifestyle.

Long Abstract

My paper proposes to look at the renegotiations of governance arrangements regarding energy consumption in New Caledonia. In this French Overseas territory energy prices are indeed very high and they are still rising. Many people have difficulties paying for energy and get into trouble if for example the electricity bill is higher than expected. Meanwhile utility companies introduce pre-paid cards to improve payment, customers block the local airline to complain about rising airfares, wind-farms go bankrupt and islanders revert to wood for cooking instead of gas. In New Caledonia especially people in the rural areas find themselves at the very end of the supply chain and often cannot chose between different providers as can city dwellers. But even they have agency and can engage negotiations on the how their provision in energy is governed. They use their limited space of action to maintain liveable conditions and retain or gain access to assets of modernity for which energy is a necessary condition. Without being able to pay for energy in form of cooking gas, car fuel and electricity a contemporary lifestyle is impossible and rural people are thus forced to engage, create and innovate in order to try to keep pace with a world more and more shaped by electronic devices, digital communications and access to information. With the energy transition fully underway, people have to constantly renegotiate governance arrangements concerning energy consumption. Prices for energy in all form are openly debated, rises contested and strategies developed to engage rising prices by less costly alternatives.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.