- Harald Rohracher (Linköping University) email
- Jenny Palm (Linköping University) email
- Thomas Berker (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) email
- Michael Ornetzeder (Austrian Academy of Sciences) email
- Eva Heiskanen (University of Helsinki) email
This session brings concepts of transformational socio-technical change in the energy system and built environment in conversation with each other. How are transition studies, practice theory or assemblage theory differing in questions of agency, governance or the collectives they are articulating?
During the past decades the energy and building sectors have increasingly come under pressure to undergo fundamental change processes. A radical transformation of these socio-technical systems towards greater sustainability and low carbon emissions is key to combat climate change and resource depletion. At the same time, the materiality of energy and buildings is deeply entangled with social practices of everyday live and energy use and broader socio-material configurations such as systems of mobility or processes of urban development and change.
The aim of this session is to bring different conceptual approaches within STS and innovation studies used in this context into conversation with each other. Some recent examples of such attempts to conceptualize socio-technical change and transformation in the energy system and built environment are social practice theory, transition studies, innovation systems analyses, assemblage theory, or concepts of social worlds and arenas of development.
The session invites both, empirical case studies on energy or buildings and conceptual papers on transformational socio-technical change, and will be organized around questions such as: How are approaches in STS and innovation studies differing in their conceptualization of socio-technical change? Which implicit assumptions about the governability and implications for the governance of change are harbored by these approaches? How are they dealing differently with questions of agency? And along with the conference theme: Do those different conceptual approaches tend to articulate different collectives implicated in the energy system and built environment?
This track is closed to new paper proposals.
Categorizing translation strategies for smart eco-city development
This paper provides a categorization of translation strategies applied by local authorities in order to implement energy strategies locally. The paper provides insight into the dedicated work aimed at translating generic concepts related to energy strategies into community-engaging local projects.
The trajectory of smart eco-city development is often greatly influenced by technical interests at the national or regional planning scale. However, such generic concepts are not easily translated into local projects. Lack of translation is not only problematic, due to a lack of local integration of smart eco-city technologies, but also because this might inhibit the effectiveness of the implementation process. Recent transition studies have indicated that translation of a generic concept into a local project variation do occur, but that it requires dedicated work.
The aim of this paper is to categorize a number of translation strategies applied by local authorities in order to implement energy strategies locally on the basis of theoretical understandings of translation from STS. This categorization is carried out on the basis of a study of best practice cases of municipal initiatives for implementation of energy strategies locally. These best practice cases have been identified through partners involved in Annex 63 of the International Energy Agency.
Based on our analysis of these case studies, we show how a common feature of many of these translation strategies is based on a strong community-engaging approach to governance, including social, technical and building specific factors. The degree to which the local projects are defined by the generic concepts of technical trajectories varies. Our categorizations illustrate how very different momentum for change are used in what seems to be community-based exploitations of technical-urban synergies.
Rethinking transformation to face climate change. Insights an energy grassroots experience
The paper explores how socio-technical transitions to confront climate change occur and presents an empirical case on energy production and consumption. The analysis is connected with elements coming from human development, as agency or governance, and with questions of learning in social action
Despite climate change (CC) is one of the greatest challenges our planet lives, many authors suggest that efforts made so far to address it don't seem to have been successful due to how CC is being perceived, interrogated and narrated from mainstream approaches. Considering this, we stand up for an alternative and complementary approach to CC, based on the idea that there exist grassroots initiatives which are articulating alternative actions and strategies to confront CC.
In order to build our framework, the paper develops original connections among ideas coming from three different fields: 1) in the field of innovation studies, grassroots innovation refers to networks of people and collectives that generate new bottom-up solutions for sustainable development. This approach is based on socio-technical transitions literature, and offers a multi-level and multidimensional approach to transform our socio-technical system, connecting macro, meso and microprocesses. 2) Human development approach, which helps us to build a framework based on people's aspirations, agency and normative values (equity, diversity, sustainability, participation, empowerment). 3) Learning in social action, connected with creation of knowledge based on ethical values and global citizenship.
In this paper we analyze the case of Som Energia, a national-scale green energy cooperative (Spain), which has contribute to a transformation on the governance of energy, promoting a democratic and responsible culture of energy consumption.
The field work will allow us to test the relevance of the framework, and evidence that grassroots initiatives connected with human development are more likely to produce transformation to combat CC
Community-based intermediaries and the local embedding of energy technologies
The paper examines the agency of community ‘intermediaries’ to locally embed market-ready energy technologies. Using three literatures – sustainability transitions, domestication studies and research on innovation intermediaries – a model is constructed and then refined through four case studies.
'Grassroots' and community-based activists are increasingly identified as potentially important actors in contemporary urban energy transformations. Their attempts to deploy market-ready technologies within their local context, involves innovation in technologies, institutions and social practices. Such innovation can be viewed as connected to but sitting above daily practices and household routines and incorporates but sits below the embedding of technology by wider society. As such community-led experimentation for local embedding suggests a gap in current knowledge between different conceptual approaches in STS and innovation studies, about local embedding via community intermediaries.
From this empirical entry point and the broad research question - how are community initiatives seeking to integrate energy technologies into local contexts of use? - the paper explores three related literatures on sustainability transitions, domestication studies and research on innovation intermediaries to understand the agency of community-based intermediaries to locally embed technologies. In doing so it builds a novel process model of community-based intermediation for local embedding, including an ideal-typical sequence to community intermediary processes. The model is then tested against four case studies on solar PV and solid wall insulation using a process theory methodology: event listings, analytic chronologies and visual maps aid pattern recognition and refinement of the model.
Building urban sustainable green niches - multi-level niche development in Vancouver, Canada
Green building is increasingly being seen as a core approach to reducing cities' greenhouse gas emissions. Using Vancouver as a case study, this paper draws on transitions theories to explore how niches co-exist at a variety of scales within the city, and beyond.
Green building is increasingly being seen as a core approach to reducing cities' greenhouse gas emissions. Not only that, but green building is seen as a means to demonstrate innovativeness and highlight technological advances in green building methods. Using Vancouver, Canada as a case study, this paper draws on transitions theories to explore how niches co-exist at a variety of scales within the city, and how these niches relate to others both locally and beyond. Over the last 20 years or so, Vancouver has adopted a range of green building policies and initiatives and implemented these at a range of scales to demonstrate its leadership in this sphere and to promote Vancouver as a sustainable urban space. Looking specifically at the green building developments at the University of British Columbia and South East False Creek, using both primary and secondary research data, this paper argues that Vancouver can be viewed as a cluster of local scale niches, as well as a broader level niche at the citywide level promoting a Vancouver-specific style of green building approaches. To date, whilst the role of space in socio-technical transitions research is becoming more prominent, the absence of empirically grounded examples remains unaddressed, and we attempt to address this by paying attention to the influence of places and spatial scale in transition processes.
Creating useful data input in building energy models
This study shows how energy modeling affects the construction process and how the professionals handles the situation when the simulation programs shows different results. This leads to discussions about what is considered as acceptable data.
Simulating the energy use of buildings during the construction process is a way to improve the energy performance in new buildings but, as this study shows, it is a difficult task. What is defined as an acceptable outcome of an energy model depends on more than just numbers; relationships, measurability and unreliable tenants play important parts as well.
In this case study, I have followed the construction process of a small block of rental apartments built by a municipality owned housing company in the new city district Vallastaden in Linköping, Sweden. High demands are put on the energy performance of the new buildings due to the sustainability focus of the city district. To be able to meet these demands, the building company hires consultant firms to simulate the energy use of the different buildings. The different outcomes of different models and the sometimes problematic results of some models create tensions between the theoretical models and the "real world" of traditional building practices. Through observations and interviews I have studied how the professionals negotiate on which input data are the most accurate and most useful. This study provides new insights in the practical work with energy models as well as how the professionals work to resolve the insecurities in using building energy models.
Long-winded UK zero carbon building transition: From acceleration to halt?
We describe the UK zero carbon building transition since the 1970s until the present day based on qualitative data analysis informed by the multi-level perspective and strategic niche management. We particularly explore the last decade from the perspectives of changed policies and intermediary space.
Alike in many other countries, the transition towards zero carbon buildings in the UK has been challenging and partly directed by EU policy. This paper explores this transition - the development of which has been characterised by a strong zero carbon policy drive followed by a complete overhaul of policies, with implications on the actions and agency of a range of actors. Drawing on theoretical concepts from sustainability transitions literature, especially the multi-level perspective, strategic niche management, and the more recent concepts of empowerment and anchoring, we analyse the emergence and development of the zero carbon building niche. The development of this niche traces back to the alternative lifestyles and green building movements of the 1970s, while the active policy drive phase occurred circa 2006-2010. The paper draws on rich interview data (from 2014-2016) and combines that with document and literature analysis. Bringing further insights to the concept of agency, we also explore the role of intermediary actors in the different phases of transition (and non-transition), noting particularly how the actions of intermediaries can be mobilised or curtailed by policy changes. We will also explore whether the existing concepts of the transitions literature are sufficient to describe phenomena, where transition not only halts but moves backwards.
'Cost-optimality' in the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive: policy controversies
This paper analyses governance of socio-technical change through the translation of the 2010 Energy Performance of Buildings Directive into Swedish policy conditions. It follows and unpacks the seemingly neutral concept of 'cost-optimality' and so highlights controversies and political strategies.
This paper analyses how 'cost-optimality', a seemingly neutral calculation device in the recast of the 2010 EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, highlights controversies and political strategies when translated into Swedish policy conditions. This ongoing translation is far from straight-forward and affects the governance of transformational change to zero energy buildings in Sweden. Different positions of how a definition of cost-optimality could be adapted to existing Swedish policies and regulations is taken by parts of industry, NGOs, and public authorities. This paper unpacks the making of such a definition of cost-optimality by following the concept as it gets re-defined through policy documents in EU and Sweden. Further, the paper discusses how cost-optimality changes over time; how particular interests of stakeholder groups becomes articulated in a seemingly 'techno-economic' definition; and, how this calculation devise is used to solicit certain political aims and interests around zero energy buildings. Empirically, the paper is based on an analysis of documents produced in the policy process on both the EU- and national level. Of special interest are supporting documents, such as guidelines for calculating cost-optimal levels, and public comments on national policies. Results show that cost-optimality is initially taken for granted as common knowledge which leads to problems further down in the policy process. As the concept gets re-defined over time for specific purposes by EU, national, and industry actors this leads to a redefinition of the zero energy building concept in Swedish legislation.
The connectivity of innovation in sustainable building construction - what roles for wood?
The paper uses actor-network theory to study the connections that condition innovation in a case of sustainable building construction. The study shows what roles wood play in negotiating the sustainability ambition for the project as well as for sustainability standards for buildings.
The aim of this paper is to inquire into the unfolding connections that condition innovation in sustainable building design and construction. The study uses actor-network theory to study an ongoing case about a new public campus building at Hedmark University College in Norway, a project that the media has also labelled 'the world's most sustainable building'. The paper first review the extant literature on innovation in sustainable buildings and shows the lack of empirical research on wood constructions. Next, an empirical account and analysis shows what roles wood play in negotiating the sustainability ambition for the project as well as sustainability standards for buildings. Notably, how actors explored and valued sustainability options for the building and how they mobilized wood along with a range of criteria, some linked to global and international standards and some invented locally. The generic international rating systems could not facilitate the sustainable project and wood building by themselves. Instead, what facilitated and conditioned the sustainability ambition was the project's establishment of a series of links between wood and local, regional and national actors and initiatives.
The study concludes on the theoretical implications that innovation in sustainable building construction relies on the establishment of a series specific and fragile links between wood and actors with various knowledge claims about what the wood materials can do - and that those links do important work that the global sustainability standards cannot accomplish but can rather hamper.
Analysis of transition to sustainable biojet-fuel by actor-network-theory
This study examine the global relation among actors and non-actors in the process of the transition to the aviation biofuel (biojet) by actor-network-theory. The purpose is to visualize the global network of RD&D of biojet including Japan and indicate the key triggers for the transition to biojet.
This study examine the relation among actors and non-actors in the process of the transition to the aviation biofuel (biojet-fuel) by actor-network-theory. The conventional aviation fuel is mainly kerosene based on fossil fuel. The number of public who board the airplane in the world is expected to increase more and more. Whereas, the fossil fuel will be in danger of running out in the future. In addition the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has shown an aim to reduce 50% of CO2 emission by the biofuel and the radical technology in the aviation industry by 2050. Accordingly RD&D of biojet-fuel is important for both environmental issue and energy security. The varieties of actors such as airlines, aircraft manufacturers, oil industries, biofuel manufactures, governments and farmers have connected across a country, cooperated and struggled the RD&D of biojet-fuel.
This study analyze the relation between such actors and non-actors which are subsidies, regulation, technologies, standard and economic aspect, considering the invisible public viewpoint on the face of its relation.
In Japan the initiative for introduction of biojet-fuel in 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic had been established from 2014 to 2015. This initiative was the space and a non-actor where the actors connected. This study visualize the global network of RD&D of biojet-fuel including Japan and indicate the key triggers for the transition to biojet-fuel.
Such research of the global space by actor-network-theory is very few in the STS literature. The findings of this study could be contributed to the STS literature.
Redesigning the Pathway - Power and politics of the German Energy Transition
The paper analyzes the socio-technical restructuration of the German energy transition. During the 1970/80s the pioneers did not only aim for new technologies, but also a democratization of the energy system. Now, the old paradigm is being reestablished and the pioneers’ ideas are losing influence.
"Energy Transition" was a political slogan against the established actor coalition (government, nuclear industry and large research institutions). It criticized the energy companies that would only look for profits and would not care for nature, environment and health protection. Within the traditional energy system - that technically consists of big fossil and nuclear power plants and a power grid infrastructure - during the 1990s a niche for small and decentralized wind, solar and biomass installations has grown up constantly. Ecologically motivated actors framed their involvement in renewable energy investments as a statement against the incumbent energy system. Over a long period of time the large energy companies fought against the renewable sector, fearing negative effects by its competition. Only during the second half of the past decade, the situation gradually changed. Especially the offshore-wind sector became interesting for big players. Also large investment fonds and the insurance sector discovered renewable energies as a new business model. This required the modification of the regulative framework. On the other side, the market conditions for small independent actors like private households, farmers and cooperatives worsened. As a consequence, the pioneers' influences declined and as subjects of the transition they became devaluated in several aspects: technically, economically and ideologically.
The paper emphasizes the latest steps in this process. Moreover, it discusses in how far the planned extension of the transmission power grid infrastructure is a core element of the transition's transition.
What do outsiders learn from experiments?
We investigate experiments in the built environment that develop technologies for distributed and intermittent energy production and consumption. We examine learning by relevant social groups: we critcally explore the notion that experiments re eal competence gaps in their context.
The notion that we can learn from experiments is topical in current discussions on societal transitions and transformational change. Within a socio-technical transitions approach, strategic niche management (SNM) conceives of local experiments within protected spaces as important initiators of learning and empowerment of new technologies. SNM conceives of experiments as sites for mutual, sociotechnical learning between emergent technologies and their contexts of use. Significant attention has been paid to how experiments support learning within the emerging technological niche, but less has been devoted to what and how "contexts of use" learn in pilots and experiments. For example, smart energy demonstrations in the built environment have shown how operation, use, permitting and interconnections can be problematic due to missing competencies.
Following the SNM perspective, we propose that demonstrations of new and innovative technologies can serve not only as a basis for adaptation of the emerging technological niche, but also of surrounding society. Unlike previous research, we focus our attention on analyzing what and how the surrounding society learns from experiments. Our paper tests this perspective on experiments with Finnish examples from pilots in embedding smart energy - solar power and other intermittent energy sources, energy management, smart metering and grids - into real-life environments. Our data consist of 6 case studies and interviews with the users of research results (public authorities, educational bodies). We critically examine whether such experiments can be used to identify - and potentially develop - missing competencies on a broader, societal scale.
The politics of energy pilot projects
Pilot projects can be testbeds for learning about new infrastructure development but they can as well monopolize and impede learning. Based on case studies of smart grid and zero emission building pilot projects, we analyse this ambivalence.
Pilot and demonstration projects are a common strategy in supporting infrastructural change, e.g. in energy, transport or the built environment. The main idea is to create small-scale models of larger infrastructure transformations which serve as a testbed for new technologies, products, services and practices and as a basis for learning about complex systemic interactions. These claims find their counterpart in different innovation studies approaches such as strategic niche management, transition studies, and open innovation.
In this paper we will present an empirical study of pilot projects aiming at the transformation of the electricity system and the built environment: the implementation of a 'smart grid' on the island of Gotland in Sweden and the construction of a series of landmark zero emissions buildings in Norway. Based on these case studies we will ask to which degree these projects actually comply with the discourses of openness, change, and learning they are embedded in, or whether they rather are caught in a demonstration logic and are mainly expected to create legitimacy for the ecological intentions of established actors in the energy and building sector and cement their dominant position, to confirm the doability of the envisaged changes and to guarantee further resource flows and political support for certain ideas in favor of others.
In consequence, the socio-material configurations enacted in these pilot projects may differ substantially from the discourses and imaginaries of more sustainable electricity systems or buildings that accompany them.
Energy transitions: Arenas, agency and processes
The aim of this paper is to propose a research agenda for the study of transitions in the energy sector, with a focus on what I call transition agency and transition processes across different arenas of development (AoD)
The aim of this paper is to propose a research agenda for the study of transitions in the energy sector, with a focus on what I call transition agency and transition processes across different arenas of development (AoD)(Jørgensen 2008). Currently, the multi-level perspective (MLP) dominates the study of such transitions. While the MLP makes a three-level conceptual distinction between niches, sociotechnical regimes and a landscape, I take cue from AoD scholars and others (e.g. Schatzki 2011) who propose a "flat" approach to transitions. This approach underscores the importance of grasping the work done by multiple actors at multiple sites to help or hinder specific transitions. Empirically I draw on examples from previously published work relating to the so-called "smart grid", what some scholars have called "a fundamental energy transition […], a move away from the centralized energy regime […] [to] a decentralized regime" (Boucher 2016, 1). Through these studies, I intend to illustrate how a smart grid transition implies orchestration, or translation of interests across and between at least four different arenas: 1) a policy arena, 2) an R&D arena, 3) a design arena, and 4) an arena of use. Through studies of these arenas, I identify at least four potential transition processes with uncertain outcomes. These are a) the production of expectations, b) network construction and re-configuration, c) scripting, and d) domestication. Combined, the description of these processes, the enacted agency involved, and the arenas where they unfold paint a messy picture of energy transitions, complicating the idea of "manageability" which is quite common in transition studies.
Transformative Change - Sociological Perspectives on the Emergence of New Structures and the German Electricity Transition
Sociology has become increasingly interested in studying the question how new structures evolve. It will be discussed whether these approaches are useful for studying socio-technical change. As an empirical example the transformation of the German electricity system will be analyzed
In recent years sociology has become increasingly interested in studying the question how new structures evolve (Martin 2010; Padgett and Powell 2012; Fligstein and McAdam 2011, 2012; White 2008). The proposed paper will try to connect these approaches to the study of socio-technical change processes. As an example for the potential usefulness of the approach, the transformation of the German system of electricity generation and supply will be analyzed.
The proposed paper will proceed as follows. At first the specific characteristics and assumptions of the approaches will be analyzed - which especially refers to their actor-orientation and relational character. A further defining feature is the emphasis on studying mechanisms that are instrumental in bringing about transformative change. In a second section the question will be raised to what extent these approaches can provide new insights compared to dominant approaches like transition theory. The emphasis will be on the question of conceptualizing the influence of technological and institutional factors or constraints. In a third section the usefulness of the approach will be tested by analyzing the transformation of the German system of electricity generation and supply.
Fligstein, Neil/McAdam Doug 2011: Toward a General Theory of Strategic Action Fields. Sociological Theory, 29 (1), 1-26.
Fligstein, Neil/McAdam, Doug 2012: A Theory of Fields. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Martin, John Levi 2009: Social Structures. Princeton: Princeton University Press
Powell, Walter L./Padgett, John F. (eds.) 2012: The Emergence of Organizations and Markets. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
White, Harrison C. 2008: Identity and Control. How Social Formations Emerge. 2nd. Ed. Princeton: Princeton UP.
Towards a framework for energy system transformation research
The paper proposes a framework to systematically explore socio-technical implications of energy transitions, and applies the framework on a case study of plus-energy buildings.
Energy systems are in a state of flux. It is expected that in the next 40 years or so the world will move from fossil fuels to renewables and higher levels of efficiency. This transition certainly will involve new technologies and infrastructures as well as new institutions and practices. So far, most changes in the energy sector are driven by technological research and development activities proposing a wide range of competing and often inconsistent options and pathways. The strong emphasis on decarbonisation, however, runs the risk of 'technocratic reduction' eventually leading to new technological fixes. In order to avoid early lock-ins and systemic inconsistencies a much broader understanding of energy transitions is needed. This paper discusses first ideas for a framework for systematic exploration of some of the various socio-technical implications of energy transitions. The framework links together and builds on transition research, technology assessment and complex systems approaches. The aim is to extend these existing approaches to take account of the importance of risk migration and thereby broaden energy policy options. Research based on this framework should allow for a better understanding of local and regional as well as systemic effects of on-going developments and consequently enhance the societal value of innovation in the energy system. In the paper the framework will be exemplified using the case of plus-energy buildings.
Towards a negotiation between disciplines in the development of electrical grids
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.
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.
This track is closed to new paper proposals.