RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2014

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414 Energy, city, representation: interrogating the (new) geo-eco-politics of the city (2)
Affiliation Energy Geographies Working Group
Convenor(s) Oleg Golubchikov (Cardiff University, UK)
Federico Caprotti (King's College London, UK)
Mike Hodson (The University of Manchester, UK)
Chair(s) Mike Hodson (The University of Manchester, UK)
Timetable Friday 29 August 2014, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Room Electrical Engineering Building, Room 403b - DO NOT USE 2016
Session abstract Both in the Global North and South a great deal of intellectual effort, policy advocacy and financial capital is devoted to making cities a key scale for "energy transitions". Cities are increasingly compelled to (re)build or (re)invent themselves as low-carbon, energy-efficient, green and otherwise sustainable. The new energy agenda modifies the ways how cities are designed, governed, imagined and consumed and how they build their external relationships with the national and transnational circuits of material and cultural capital. This effectively becomes a key political and geo-political dimension of global urbanism and global urban entrepreneurialism today.

While literature in the field is dominated by celebratory accounts or policy-oriented analysis of technology, actors, institutions and psychology underpinning energy transitions, there also emerge critical explorations that interrogate the wider politico-economic configurations and implications of urban energy transitions, including their entanglement with the geographically-contextualised issues of power, inequality and justice. This literature cautions that many social policies are subverted by technocratised goals of urban decarbonisation. For instance, it is already well documented that many self-proclaimed carbon-neutral cities - and not just in the Global South - focus on technology as part of their representation at the cost of social sustainability.

By framing this session around the idea of the geo-eco-politics of the city, we include contributions, both conceptual and empirical, that offer critical insights into the multi-scalar architecture of the new regimes and politics in relation to urban energy modernisation. We will also consider how the idea of the geo-eco-politics of the city may encapsulate and interrogate the associated practices and experiences.

Linked Sessions Energy, city, representation: interrogating the (new) geo-eco-politics of the city (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2014@rgs.org
Energy and Cities in Emerging countries: challenging the transition narrative
Eric Verdeil (CNRS, France)
Sylvy Jaglin (Paris-Est Créteil Val-de-Marne University, France)
The paper draws lessons from 6 cases - Dehli, Istanbul, other Turkish cities, Cape Town, Buenos Aires and Sfax, Tunisia. It discusses the notion of energy transition based on empirical studies in these cities. We challenge the idea of a convergence in the trajectories of energy related changes between the cities, and hence question the consistence of the idea of transition as a unique model. We observe that changes in local energy systems are very much correlated to local social, political, infrastructural of material contingencies. Beyond this, we also critically examine the idea that the urban authorities take a major part in the energy governance and find almost no clue of this fact, given that energy systems remain controlled by state institutions and private actors. But this doesn't mean that cities remain inert. Specifically, we point out that cities are increasingly the site of multifaceted processes of social and political mobilization about energy issues, specifically about energy securitization, about access to energy and energy tariff in a context of mass poverty, and about energy efficiency and energy saving programs.
Remunicipalizing electricity in Germany: dynamics and conflictuality of a bottom-up urban decarbonisation policy
Teva Meyer (The University of Paris VIII, France)
The Energiewende in Germany, i.e. the shift toward a carbon neutral and nuclear free energy system, is not only a top-down policy. Municipalities have long played a major role in the electricity market through their own utilities, called Stadtwerke. If the liberal boom of the 1980s led to the privatization of many of them, the opening of the European energy market in the late 1990s and the Energiewende supported a remunicipalization tendency. Either by promoting locally produced power or building new facilities, Stadtwerke are actors of the development of renewable energies in Germany. By competing the offers of the large coal-consuming electric utilities, Stadtwerke indirectly became actors of the decarbonisation of the cities’ energy consumption. In this paper, I propose to analyze the driving forces of the remunicipalization, its actors as well as its conflictuality. To do so, I’ll study and compare three cities, Stuttgart, Hambourg and Berlin. All of them have faced, a remunicipalisation movement of their electricity production, distribution and sales, successful or not, in the past few years. In a first part, I’ll examine the contextual characteristics in Germany which are facilitating this dynamics (electricity geography, particular local referendum possibilities, historical precedents, etc.). Then, I’ll present the multiple actors engaged (private entrepreneurship, local authorities, environmentalist movements, citizens’ initiatives, etc.) and show the diversity of their motivations and objectives (personal and political empowerment, environmentalism, financial opportunities, etc.). Finally, I’ll demonstrate how these diverging targets and representations ultimately lead to political controversies, thus marking the limits of remunicipalization.
Nottingham: the most energy self-sufficient city in the UK? Exploring tensions in power, inequality and justice
Amanda Smith (Nottingham Trent University, UK)
The 2010 Nottingham Energy Strategy boldly claimed that, “In 2006 we generated 3% of our own heat and power from renewables and waste, making Nottingham the most energy self-sufficient City in the UK.” Clearly, such a statement is not without controversy- particularly in the context of drawing on energy from waste as a strategy for energy security but also as a claim about the position of Nottingham as essentially a city leading from the front in terms of low carbon transitions. In this paper I offer an empirical case study of recent energy developments (and transitions) in Nottingham City, with the aim of opening up a contextualised exploration of issues associated with power, inequality and justice alongside insights into the emerging multi-scalar architecture of policy regimes and politics in the city and beyond. This work is based on my participatory research with differing organisations in Nottingham from social movements, the voluntary, private and public sector. For instance, I am a voluntary sector representative (appointed due to my work within the voluntary and community sector as an activist rather than as an academic) on the Green Nottingham Partnership which is a multi-sector grouping that supports the delivery of the city’s Energy Strategy (alongside other environmental priorities identified in the Nottingham Plan). This position on the Partnership and my work with groups such as Transition Nottingham provides rich ground with which to interrogate the key spatial and political controversies associated with urban energy strategies. Furthermore, Nottingham’s Energy Strategy and its deployment alongside other initiatives such as MOZES (Meadows Ozone Energy Services Limited- a community Energy Services Company) provide useful context with which to explore tensions of power, inequality and justice amongst the key groups within and beyond the city.
Community Domestic Retrofit Programmes and the New Civics of Urban Energy
Andrew Karvonen (The University of Manchester, UK)
Strategies to reduce energy consumption in domestic buildings in the UK typically rely on regulations, economic incentives, and the provision of information to reduce household energy consumption. In combination, these approaches have had a considerable influence on domestic energy demand but it is unlikely that they will be sufficient in meeting the Government’s stringent carbon reduction targets up to 2050. A complementary approach of community housing retrofit is emerging as an opportunity to realise more significant reductions in domestic energy consumption. Instigated by community groups, charity organisations, and social housing providers in particular locales, these programmes take a meso-scale to domestic energy consumption by targeting a specific group of houses and the stakeholders who can influence their energy performance. Through recursive and deliberative interventions, these programmes aim to create localised ‘energy cultures’ that can realise long-term changes in domestic energy consumption. In this presentation, I frame these community domestic retrofit programmes as an emerging form of civic urban energy politics. Using ideas from social practice theory, social movements, and civic environmentalism, I assess the implications of rescaling domestic energy performance. These programmes provide a number of important insights on creating a new politics of domestic energy consumption but it remains to be seen if they can be sustained in the long term and if they can be replicated in multiple communities.
The institutionalization process of low-carbon housing: Evidence from Freiburg
Arian Mahzouni (KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden)
The housing sector is the single largest energy consumer, accounting for about one-third of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The term of low-carbon housing is widely used in the European urban policy to legitimize actions for a zero/low carbon city. However, there is limited research about the ways in which this term is socially constructed, deployed and received (Jacobs, 2006:48). There are different claims (e.g. knowledge, profitability, moral, emotional etc.) from actors in housing industry to support or disable low carbon housing. Drawing on the case of Freiburg and incorporating research drawn from urban policy and discourse analysis, this paper will evaluate: 1) how far the storylines in the housing sector (e.g. energy efficiency, home comfort, and affordability) are competing/completing each other; 2) if and how certain storylines are interconnected to support a single discourse coalition with the aim of legitimizing a policy problem and to set a frame for policy making. It will use ‘discourse coalition’ methodology, advocated by scholars (cf. Hajer, 1993; Dryzek, 1993; Fischer and Forester, 1993; Rydin, 1999; Goodchild and Cole, 2001; Lees, 2004; and Ockwell and Rydin, 2006) to analyse why and how different interest groups try to create a particular narrative of the term ‘low-carbon housing’, as a tool to achieve their political and organizational objectives.