Energy Experiments
Location 133
Date and Start Time 03 September, 2016 at 11:00
Sessions 3


  • Manuel Tironi (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) email
  • Tomás Ariztía (Universidad Diego Portales - Chile) email

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Discussant Alex Wilkie (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Short Abstract

From off-grid ecovillages to citizen monitoring of energy-related pollution, this panel explores energy experiments as projects in which energy is rendered both as an excitable material and as a site for political contestation.

Long Abstract

Off-grid ecovillages, online energy communities, indigenous electricity projects, collective metering initiatives and citizen monitoring of energy-related pollution using DIY technologies. Energy experiments are proliferating in diverse contexts and settings. Experiments because they render energy both as an excitable material and as a site for the politicization of issues, institutions and arrangements. First, energy experiments tinker new engagements with water, solar, wind, electricity and other elemental forces, thus enlivening energy as a provocative yet resistant matter that is gathered and circulated through multifarious practices of intervention, making and care. Second, energy experiments are also social projects in which the otherwise is rendered possible (Povinelli 2007). In these experiments novel forms of collaboration and endurance are congealed, inciting new problematizations about how energy is governed in late liberalism. Notions such as participation, citizenship, 'smart communities', intervention and change are thus transfigured by the flourishing of alternative modes of engaging with energy. And third, insofar energy is an existent that forces thought and affection in the everyday, energy experiments relocate politics away from the sublime spaces of the public sphere and closer to the mundane, the intimate, the bodily and the uneventful.

This panel invites papers that critically explore the many ways in which energy experiments are lived, produced and politicised. Topics might include, but are not limited to:

- Material speculations in alternative energy projects.

- Energy experiments as forms of political resistance.

- Activism and grassroot energy interventions.

- Energy production and more-than-human entanglements.

- Open infrastructuring and collective innovation in energy systems and consumption.

- Energy experiments, citizenship and participation.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.


The Invisible Animateur: tracing the material and political liveliness of wind in Scotland

Author: Annabel Pinker (The James Hutton Institute)  email

Short Abstract

This paper attends to two emergent modalities of energy ‘decentralisation’ in Scotland. It considers the affective, sensory, and material dimensions of these variously scaled renewable energy schemes, the new political spaces they hint at, and the new ways of inhabiting local landscapes that they invite.

Long Abstract

Scholars have recently begun exploring the entanglements between political forms and energy infrastructures (e.g. Mitchell 2011; Boyer 2014); some have suggested, in particular, that locally-driven renewable energy systems - which may pose a challenge to conventional arrangements of centralised energy production and use - bring the potential for a vibrant, re-enfranchised, participatory politics (Walker and Cass 2007; Devine-Wright 2007). This paper attends to two distinct modalities of energy 'decentralisation' in Scotland, drawing on fieldwork both on a west-coast peninsula that has conducted a 40-year long experiment with handcrafted off-grid micro-wind turbines and on a 40,000-acre Aberdeenshire estate, where new regulations have ensured that a tiny population is set to receive hundreds of thousands in annual 'community benefit funds' from the anticipated construction of one of the country's largest windfarms. I consider the affective, sensory, and material dimensions of these variously scaled renewable energy schemes, the emergent political spaces they hint at, and the new ways of inhabiting local landscapes that they invite. What embedded histories of land ownership, power, and everyday life bubble up in local responses to these infrastructures? What phantasms of possible futures do they conjure? What distinctive intimacies with wind, sun and water do they cultivate? How do the political and material intransigencies of existing infrastructures come to shape and disrupt the possibilities framed by these energy projects? In addressing these questions, this paper aims to put scholarly work on changing relations between humans, nature and infrastructures in the Anthropocene in dialogue with current debates around emergent political practices.

Genealogy of an 'indigenous wind farm' in the region of Chiloe - Chile.

Author: Jorgelina Sannazzaro (Alberto Hurtado University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will build a genealogy of the creation of a wind farm in an indigenous community in Chiloé Island in Chile. Based on the contributions of STS literature but with the objective of enhancing the comprehension of the classic controversial analysis by introduction of the experiment concept.

Long Abstract

Over the last decade, wind power projects have multiplied in Chiloé Island. These projects are presented as capable of satisfying, to some extent, the demands which accompany national development in relation to energy supply, and contribute to the creation of a more sustainable energy system. Parallel to the increase of these projects, there also other proposals that seem to challenge the current energy development for Chiloé.

Among these is the emblematic case of a large wind farm project that is promoted by Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and some indigenous community leaders. The IDB proposal is to create a company that was named tentatively as "Society of Indigenous Energy Chiloé" to represent the interests of the communities involved.

Based on the contributions of STS literature, with the objective of expanding the comprehension of the classic controversial analysis, stressing the incommensurability of the views and assuming an ethical attitude that would allow the ralentization of thinking in order to prevent the risk of a rather early understanding, this paper will explore the narratives of energy development, developing questions such as:

Is there more than one single narrative of energy development in this case? Which narratives of development are configured and maybe are entangled? Which are the 'biopolitically produced metaphors' that are used? Up to what point can we consider this case to be an experiment? What kind of ethics accompanies those processes? Which are the uncertainties regarding ethical and ecological forms of the future?

Configuring electricity moralities - from a solar mini-grid pilot in Bangladesh

Author: Hanne Cecilie Geirbo (University of Oslo)  email

Short Abstract

Scholars have often attended to the morality of utility infrastructures as strategies of governance or as designers’ inscriptions and users’ description. This study discusses how moralities were configured ad-hoc by hacking as well as rhetorical, bureaucratic, and technical means in a solar pilot project.

Long Abstract

This paper is based on an ethnographic action research study of an emerging solar electricity infrastructure in a Bangladeshi village. Through participating in the planning, implementing, and restructuring of a solar mini-grid over four years, the author has explored how practitioners and residents have used morality as a resource in their efforts to shape the infrastructure according to their various, and sometimes conflicting, needs. The concept 'configuration' (as used by Lucy Suchman among others) is engaged to highlight the joining together of the imaginaries and materials that structure these efforts. During the course of the pilot project, residents have used hacking of the household electricity connections, in combination with appeals to moral values, to shape the electricity infrastructure according to their needs. Partly to obstruct hacking and partly to accommodate the residents' moral claims, the practitioners have in return used rhetorical means, such as allegories; bureaucratic means, such as algorithms for arbitration; and technical means, such as fuses, to configure other electricity moralities.

In STS and related fields, the morality of utility infrastructures has often been attended to as strategies of governance. Another focus has been designers' inscription of morality and users' de-scription of them (as used by Madeleine Akrich). This paper will contribute to this literature by discussing how morality can also be a resource that is utilized ad-hoc by practitioners as well as residents in efforts to shape an electricity infrastructure according to conflicting needs and desires.

Energy experiments in off-grid regions - practitioners role and social impacts

Authors: Carmen Dienst (Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy)  email
Willington Ortiz  email
Marie-Christine Gröne (Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy)  email
Julia Terrapon-Pfaff  email

Short Abstract

Non-technical aspects are relevant for the success of energy projects in off-grid regions. Practitioners are crucial role to trigger and accompany transformative processes of these energy experiments. Insights from a post-evaluation of 30 projects and analysis of practitioners networks are presented.

Long Abstract

It is widely accepted that non-technical aspects are highly relevant for the success of decentralised renewable energy projects (DREs). The impacts of those factors and which aspects hinder sustainable implementation are complex.

Especially in regions with no or low energy access these projects can be understood as interventions that trigger and accompany transformative processes. In that sense they can be seen as energy experiments. The different groups involved, like individual community members, local government, local NGOs, funding organizations and practitioners, have specific roles within the implementation process.

The practitioners, such as implementing organisations or individual experts, can be seen as the facilitators of transformation. They possess accumulated know-how not only in terms of technical expertise and on-site troubleshooting, but as well as in the appropriate ways of achieving sound and long-term success.

The results presented in the session are based on insights from a) a post-evaluation of 30 projects 2-8 years after implementation; b) the analysis of so-called practitioners networks, like the biogas network in Latin America (RedBioLAC) and the HydroEmpowerment network in South East Asia; c.) lessons learned from 10 years of monitoring small-scale energy projects, supported under WISIONS initiative.

Next to availability of adequate knowledge and skills, success factors are clearly linked to the needs of the beneficiaries and how they are addressed, such as motivation and satisfaction. However, the importance of locally-anchored organisations and practitioners, as well as the role of the local decision makers, is often underestimated by global funding organizations or within supporting programmes.

Designing a new electricity consumer

Authors: Trine Pallesen (Copenhagen Business School)  email
Rasmus Jenle  email

Short Abstract

The paper reports on a smart grid experiment for the making of a new retail electricity market integrating fluctuating electricity generation into electricity systems. An outline of design challenges faced by the market engineers when dealing with different and lacking conceptions of consumers is provided.

Long Abstract

The paper presents preliminary findings from an ongoing smart grid experiment on the Danish island Bornholm. The ambition behind the experiment is to control the timing of electricity consumption by engineering a control system market which uses variable electricity prices as the control signal. If successful, the new assembly will allow increasing amounts of intermittent electricity generation from wind turbines to be integrated into energy systems. Making this new market involves a twofold challenge; on one hand, the previous round of experimentation made it clear that consumers must be equipped and disciplined in order to comply. The engineers here see a need "…to move beyond conceptualizations of the consumer simply as system load" (EcoGrid 2.0 project team member A) - a load characterized by the features of the agent described in neoclassical economic theory. On the other hand, when acknowledging that the experiment involves producing a new consumer, the necessary idea of the predictable and constant economic agent as previously inscribed in the markets design is lost. The flexible consumer is at the heart of the markets design, yet the consumer remains a "black box" (EcoGrid 2.0 project team member B).

Drawing on recent literature on economic experiments (Muniesa and Callon 2007; Guala 2007) and Peirce's (1905) pragmaticist notion of experimentation, we follow the engineers' problematizations of the consumer - and their attempt to develop distinct solutions that may allow for the production of reliable and predictable consumers.

Designing energy experiments: scripting ambiguity and curiosity in a research device

Author: Liliana Ovalle (Goldsmiths University of London)  email

Short Abstract

This paper reflects on the design of the ‘Energy Babble’, a research device that broadcasts internet-sourced content to UK energy communities. Developing Akrich’s notion of ‘script’, the paper explores how ambiguity was materialised to prompt ludic engagement around energy-demand reduction.

Long Abstract

This paper explores and reflects on the design process of the 'Energy Babble' research device - an interactive and networked audio system for mediating energy-related content - focusing on the emergence of it's visual and material properties. The Energy Babble played a key methodological role in the 'Energy and Co-Designing Communities' project, an interdisciplinary engagement between STS scholars and design researchers, where it was deployed amongst a number of UK-based local energy communities to explore, understand and reframe the 'problems' and cosmopolitics associated with UK carbon reduction policy instruments. The paper highlights and reflects on the key design stages of the research device as part of the process of defining the material/visual form of the device and, by complicating Akrich's notion of 'script', the paper describes how ambiguous and playful energy scripts intermingled with the rigidity of the devices' 'technical' requirements. The paper concludes by discussing the role of material practices and aesthetic expertise in generating (or not) non-instrumental community participation with energy experiments.

Energy biographies: Everyday life and socio-technical change in energy systems

Authors: Karen Henwood (Cardiff University)  email
Christopher Groves (Cardiff University)  email
Fiona Shirani (Cardiff University)  email

Short Abstract

In the wake of COP21, it is important to take stock of research-led understandings of why people use energy in the ways that they do, and to consider the contribution of methodologically innovative energy demand projects (such as the Energy Biographies study) as energy experiments.

Long Abstract

In the wake of COP21, it is timely to reconnect strategic visions and policy interventions with research-led understandings of how and why people use energy. A key relevant research focus in STS has been on the socio-technical entanglements of practices and technologies over time, and their influence on trajectories of demand (Shove, Pantzar, and Watson, 2012). The Energy Biographies study (2011-2015, has developed innovative methodologies for rendering visible sociologically and psychologically intangible aspects of our ways of living in resource-intensive ways. It has developed psychosocially-nuanced understandings of the ways in which relational subjects are essential for understanding energy-using practices. It has also opened creative spaces where energy usage across the lifecourse creates opportunities for exploring continuity and change dynamics. This presentation will bring into relief theoretical and methodological issues involved in experimental ways of working that have been taken forward by this project, and in connection with three substantive concerns: the dynamics of participation in sustainable or unsustainable patterns of everyday energy use; the embedding and entanglements of energy usage and social practices in everyday life, wider systems, and cultural conditions of late modernity; the role of psychosocial intangibles (relationships, emotional attachments and investments) in the dynamics of everyday energy use and systems change. In doing this, we will show how it is possible to bring STS scholarship relating to sustainability transitions, everyday energy use, and sociotechnical systems change together with social scientific research investigating articulations between sociotechnical change in the everyday and lifecourse or psychosocial (including narrative) perspectives.

Brixton Energy: The transformational context of urban community energy projects

Authors: Irene Hakansson (King's College London)  email
Bruno Turnheim (King's College London)  email

Short Abstract

We critically examine the particular context (e.g. political arrangements, geographical location) that has shaped the development of the UK’s first inner-city community energy project – a project which has been praised for its social equity ambitions and been viewed as successful social innovation.

Long Abstract

Civil society initiatives, including community energy projects, have been identified as promising field of innovation for sustainability. Such 'grassroots innovations', the literature argues, are commonly led by social need and equity rather than economic profit. Their promises and potentials hence go beyond those of technological fixes. Applying a narrative case study approach, we tell the story of Brixton Energy - a community energy project in London that is erecting solar panels on social housing estates while using profits to run local energy awareness projects. Brixton Energy is often viewed as a successful initiative and has been praised for its novelty especially on two grounds: (1) it is the UK's first inner-city (as opposed to rural) community energy project, and (2) its operational and financial model focuses explicitly on community empowerment, inclusivity, and equity by, for instance, setting lower minimum investment thresholds for local estate residents than external investors. We critically examine these two aspects of originality by exploring the particular context that has been shaping the emergence and development of Brixton Energy (that is e.g., political arrangements, geographical location, public visibility and profile, legitimacy, expertise and negotiation). The initiative's name, structure, scale, scope, objectives, and impacts have been changing over time. We discuss how, why, and with what consequences these changes have occurred with respect to those claims of novelty.

Experimenting for flexible and sustainable electricity consumption in a cooperative.

Author: Nick Verkade (Eindhoven University of Technology)  email

Short Abstract

A renewable energy community case study, in which social practice theory is applied to consider emerging energy practices which depict a vision of energy citizenship. Through intermediation of ICT, new and conflicting practices and meanings are introduced into domestic energy management.

Long Abstract

In this presentation I will offer a Practice Theoretical approach to the issue of flexibility of domestic electricity consumption, building on the experiences from a smart grid pilot project. The project entails an IT platform co-created by Dutch DNO Enexis, IT developer Shifft and a local energy cooperative. The platform integrates smart meter data and predictions of local renewable supply and demand to provide users with feedback and advice on timing of use. Energy consumption is problematized and the goals of being self-sufficient and managing peak loads in the local grid are united. I approach this pilot as an experiment for energy citizenship (Goulden 2014) in which a specific set of practices is aimed to be introduced with novel technology. Through rendering (renewable) energy visible by the intermediation of an community-level ICT platform, users are faced with new practices and conflicting meanings for thinking and dealing with energy. Main contribution of this paper is to in more detail consider this bundle of energy management practices and their place in household energy performance. Additionally it is an application of social practice theory to a specific energy-related case. Results will show that the innovation's actual effect on energy consumption can be explained through certain practice elements (not) being shared between practices of managing and consuming (Shove et al 2012). Results are also shown to be heavily linked to what generally is thought of as 'institutional context'; in line with Nicolini (2012) through zooming out, a further exploration of this realm of practices is proposed.

Exploring the Dutch community energy sector's socio-technical innovation potential

Authors: Esther van der Waal (University of Groningen)  email
Henny van der Windt (University of Groningen)  email

Short Abstract

Community-owned renewable energy (CORE) seems to be a field in which social and technological innovation coincide. Explored is the socio-technical innovation potential of Dutch CORE in the light of recently appearing cooperations between developers of renewable technologies and community groups.

Long Abstract

Although still relatively modest compared to classic fore-runners as Denmark and Germany, Dutch community-owned renewable energy (CORE) is increasingly establishing itself as player in the Netherlands' energy sector. This paper is to give an overview of the Dutch community energy sector's current technological innovation potential, aiming to contribute to theory development within socio-technological transitions literature, and specifically Strategic Niche Management. It furthers the understanding of the extent to which collective civic experiments with renewable energy - in academic literature predominantly described as a social innovation - can influence, co-create, and possibly even enhance the development and dissemination of emergent, innovative RE technologies by offering local seedbeds for experimentation and early adoption. Central is a focus on the interaction between social and technological niche innovations in the Dutch community energy sector. After assessing the current innovativeness of the Dutch community energy sector, 8 case studies of Dutch energy experiments will be discussed, covering a spectrum ranging from low to high socio-technological innovativeness (2 highly socially innovative and modestly technologically innovative; 2 highly technologically innovative and modestly socially innovative; 2 both highly socially and technologically innovative; and 2 both modestly socially and modestly technologically innovative). A specific stress will be on identification of combinations of, and interactions between, project internal and external circumstances influencing the extent to which the community energy initiatives engage in innovation and dissemination of emergent RE technologies.

Energy and Community from Remote Locations

Author: Gloria Baigorrotegui (Universidad de Santiago de Chile)  email

Short Abstract

Taking the example of a collective energy experience in southern Chilean Patagonia, we propose to enrich the typology of renewable energy communities to include the geographical and diverse traits of their conformation.

Long Abstract

This work proposes to examine the power dynamics articulated by individuals and groups from the places where energy is alive and projected in a remote place of the Chilean Patagonia. An ethnographic and qualitative work of resistance against the hydroelectric dam is conducted in a group emerged from its collective and private experiences, with autonomy self-determination of their territory. In addition to enhancing criticism of the "energy transition" at a planetary level, the preliminary consideration of these forms open the enquiry on the experiences of isolated or remote, particular cases.

From the well-known typology of Devine-Wright and Walker (2008) of renewable energy communities that positions them in terms of processes and results, we propose to re-write them in terms of the questions on how to deliberate, who to incorporate and from where it is located. The Patagonia energy community experience will be a reference for this theoretical and methodological discussion.

The purpose of this proposal is to incorporate the changing processes of energy communities over time, for example, in terms of the project scale, trust and geography. Caring for the collective, we acknowledge, implies constant negotiation and transformation, which may be risky to be taken for granted.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.