RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016


365 Transitions to a low-carbon future: The human factor in the energy system (2)
Affiliation Energy Geographies Research Group
Convenor(s) Stephen Axon (Liverpool John Moores University, UK)
John Morrissey (Liverpool John Moores University, UK)
Niall Dunphy (University College Cork, Ireland)
Breffni Lennon (University College Cork, Ireland)
Chair(s) John Morrissey (Liverpool John Moores University, UK)
Timetable Friday 02 September 2016, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Session abstract For the past three decades, efforts to reduce the environmental impact of energy have focused on designing energy-efficient technologies and developing renewable sources of energy. As the window of opportunity to address climate change narrows, there is a growing consensus that changes to human actions are required as part of a transition to more sustainable methods of living and energy consumption. Behaviour, practices and culture constitute a powerful human factor in the energy system; in particular the interactions between technologies, practices and norms that lock individuals in to certain patterns of (often inefficient) energy use. The result has been an increasing focus in behaviour change research, particularly on the social contexts in which people live, the routines they shape, and the extent to which people feel empowered to change them. In line with this year’s theme of Nexus Thinking, this session brings together papers that offer new understandings of the interdependent factors that shape energy practices and how a range of stakeholders can be meaningfully engaged with transitions to a low-carbon energy society and future. These considerations expose new opportunities and challenges in the development of low-carbon transition pathways as well as the implementation of new approaches that go beyond the adoption of new technologies.
Linked Sessions Transitions to a low-carbon future: The human factor in the energy system (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
Living with domestic refrigerators: How refrigeration shapes energy practices
Gordon Waitt (University of Wollongong, Australia)
Catherine Phillips (Western Sydney University, Australia)
Energy efficient domestic refrigerators are at the forefront of climate change campaigns. Energy star ratings equip individuals with the capacity to perform environmental citizenship when purchasing a new fridge. Yet, what might geographers interested in a transition to a low-carbon future learn from how refrigerators mediate concern and engagement? In addressing this question, we turn to Deleuze and Guattari's concept of agencement to outline a performative cultural geography of material household sustainability. This concept turns our attention to the constitutive powers of these devices for both individual and collective household becoming. By making this move, we are interested in how the refrigerator shapes and is shaped by the topologies of everyday living. We argue that refrigerators become crucial participants in the working arrangements of domestic economies and identities, in ways that move beyond simple judgements of these devices as 'good' or 'bad'. To better understand barriers to behavioural change around domestic refrigeration we draw on ethnographic research conducted with 28 households in Wollongong, Australia. We analyse interactions with the fridge itself that shape energy practices, as well as its components – like temperature displays and alarms – understanding them as political devices that contribute to the making of household environmental responsibility, energy citizenship, social positions and identity. Mindful that low carbon domestic economies are not just about purchasing and plugging in fridges, but a combination of situated practices, we offer suggestions from our research on where and how to intervene in these practice-device relationships.
Low-carbon NSIPs and the role of public voices
Yvonne Rydin (University College London, UK)
Simon Lock (University College London, UK)
Maria Lee (University College London, UK)
Lucy Natarajan (University College London, UK)
This paper addresses the issue of how the many public voices that might speak on the UK's low-carbon future engage with decision-making on low-carbon infrastructure. It draws on the initial stages of work of a major new ESRC-funded study based at UCL, in to Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs). From July 2015, an interdisciplinary team from across UCL, including the Bartlett School of Planning, the Faculty of Laws, and the Department of Science & Technology Studies, led by Professor Yvonne Rydin, are investigating the role of Publics and Evidence in the decisions on NSIPs. Initial findings around stakeholder engagement with decision-making are presented. In thinking about the future of national energy provision there is a shift in policy rhetoric that supports low-carbon generation, and as part of that the NSIPs regime offers a quasi-legal examination of applications. The construction of evidence within this process is complex and tends towards the highly technical, and yet there are spaces within it where the public in all its multiplicity and diversity directly make written representations, speak at hearings and occasionally attend site visits together with the examiner. Through multi-disciplinary conceptual framing 12 cases of low-carbon NSIPs voices of the publics are analysed, and their role in the construction of evidence drawn out.
Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) niche development from governance perspectives
Mansi Jain (University of Twente, The Netherlands)
Thomas Hoppe (University of Twente, The Netherlands)
Hans Bresers (University of Twente, The Netherlands)
As global warming and fossil fuel depletion highlight the need to save energy and reduce our carbon footprint, the net zero-energy building (NZEB) concept is gaining prominence worldwide. NZEB is still at a nascent stage of niche formation in a developing economy such as India. Large scale adoption and implementation of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies can transform the building sector towards a low carbon future. The paper aims to assess the role of governments in adoption and uptake of NZEBs by addressing the research question: What is the role of governments in spurring NZEB niche development in India from governance perspective? The study uses the Governance Assessment Tool (GAT) along with the Sectoral System Innovation Assessment Framework (SSAIf) to analyse NZEB niche development in the New Delhi region in India. A case study research design is used to assess governance conditions regarding NZEB niche development. Data collection involved in-depth interviews with ten key stakeholders and were analyzed using qualitative analysis software program of Atlas ti. The results show that governments can initiate changes in structure, user practices , culture, regulations and networks by influencing particular governance conditions such as: i) strategies and instruments used by governments, and ii) actor network formation, in particular engaging relevant stakeholders in policy making process and NZEB projects.
Standards, design and energy demand: The case of commercial offices
James Faulconbridge (Lancaster University, UK)
Noel Cass (Lancaster University, UK)
John Connaughton (University of Reading, UK)
In this paper we examine the influence of what we call market standards on the design of commercial offices and the implications for moves towards less energy demanding designs. Theoretically the paper builds on concepts drawn from a range of literatures examining standards, including science and technology studies and the sociology of standards. We argue that standards do important 'work' in design processes that require closer scrutiny. We show that in the case of commercial offices they affect the likelihood of the incorporation of low energy technologies. Our analysis reveals: the importance of taking greater account of normative and cultural forms of market standards and their role in design; the value of explaining how standards break the relationship between design and social practice, in our case this meaning that low energy technologies that might adequately cater for office work much of the time are considered inappropriate due to a lack of understanding of office work practices; how standards interlock to legitimate incumbent (higher energy) technologies, and in turn de-legitimise (lower energy) alternatives, through the way they define what is 'needed'; the value of tactics within energy and sustainability policies designed to govern non-regulatory standards and their effects. The paper thus makes an important contribution to understanding the 'work' of standards, and more broadly the production of energy demand in offices.
Transition to a distributed energy system in Switzerland? Investigating the role of local actors, co-ownership and neighbourhool effects
Timo von Wirth (ETH Zurich, Switzerland)
Roman Seidl (ETH Zurich, Switzerland)
A promising niche to leverage renewable energy provision are distributed energy systems (DES) on local scale. DES (e.g. micro-cogeneration, local multi-energy hubs) integrate renewable sources, small-scale natural-gas-based combined heat and power production, various methods for energy storage, and active demand side management. However, research about the transition process toward adopting these systems within existing neighbourhood contexts is scarce. In particular, little is known about the role of local actors, ownership, and the effects of neighbourhood relations in accelerating the acceptance of DES. We build on the theoretical framework of socio-technical transitions and present results from two research modules. First, based on a systematic analysis of the existing literature on the acceptance of DES, we conducted a series of semi-structured interviews with representatives of few already existing pilot implementations. Second, we report on the research design and first results from an experimental online survey among Swiss house owners, aiming to elicit attitudes and context factors for the active deployment of DES on neighbourhood scale. Our findings increase the empirical understanding of actors' active acceptance by further elaborating on the roles of actors and DES ownership, message framing (e.g. local vs. global) and the intensity of neighbourhood relations. The perceived benefits and risks illustrate relevant criteria for the adoption of DES and have implications for the feasibility and organisation of decentralized energy generation beyond the existing socio-technical paradigm.