RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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118 Examining energy consumption and communities: The social, cultural and political dynamics of energy system transformations (2)
Affiliation Planning and Environment Research Group
Convenor(s) Frances Fahy (National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland)
Stephen Axon (Liverpool John Moores University, UK)
Chair(s) Frances Fahy (National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland)
Timetable Wednesday 30 August 2017, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Room Skempton Building, Lecture Theatre 207
Session abstract Given the need for radical transformations to the ways in which energy is produced and consumed to address climate change, energy systems are transitioning from a centralized fossil-fuel based infrastructure towards a more diversified, low-carbon, and decentralized production model. While energy transitions are frequently framed as processes involving social and material consequences, such radical changes also constitute discursive dimensions involving debate, idea exchange and implementing low-carbon innovations. This transition involves potential for fundamental social, cultural, and institutional shifts in individual, household, and community assumptions about energy consumption as well as new opportunities for ownership, engagement and control of energy production.
Linked Sessions Examining energy consumption and communities: The social, cultural and political dynamics of energy system transformations (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Taking it to the street: the variegated spatialities of community energy transitions
Gerald Taylor Aiken (University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg)
This presentation outlines one government-funded community project to lower the energy consumption of an urban street. Here, a grassroots desire to ‘do something’ about environmental challenges harmonised with state-supported reconfiguring of energy-related behaviours. The resulting intervention is increasingly relevant: not only because similar examples of state and community actors collaboratively intervening in energy relations abound; but also because of what these specific dynamics have to say about community’s spatiality. This scheme not only focused on the physical infrastructure of the street (retrofitting, installing renewables) but also the lived experience and residents’ patterns of behaviour. By invoking canonical geographical theories of space, the paper outlines the different communities at play. One community is territorially delimited, location-bound, and static: the street, and its residents. Another community is networked, performative, and interpersonal: those involved in the community project. These forms of community correspond, respectively, to space as both a container—the community being transitioned—and as a co-constructed social space—the community doing the transitioning. That community is polysemic is not a new contribution, but this paper will argue that how community is understood, approached, and acted out (Lefebvre would say perceived, conceived and lived) is inherently tied up with its spatiality. In reflecting on the spatial implications different forms of community produce (and are in turn produced by), the presentation argues for greater appreciation of the imbrication of space, community and energy as mutually co-constitutive.
Solidarity or selfishness? A critique of decentralised ownership in Europe
Anne Schiffer (Leeds Beckett University, UK)
Within the European context, forms of and perceptions towards decentralised ownership models vary drastically. What is praised as ‘community energy’ by some, is labelled as capitalist investment for the rich by others or evokes negative associations with communism. However, central questions in these apparent tensions are who pays, who participates and who benefits? This paper is primarily based on insights gained from Community Power, a European project that ran from 2013 to 2016 and aimed to improve legislation and policy for community-owned renewable energy. The paper compares different ownership models of citizen-led renewable energy transitions by examining levels of participation and distribution of costs and benefits. While people’s participation in the transition to 100% renewables helps ensure benefits stay local and increases public support for renewable infrastructure, citizen-ownership cannot free itself from critiques of exclusion, especially in relation to ‘energy independence’.
Challenging Business as-Usual? The Problematic Institutionalisation of Community Renewable Energy in the UK
Audley Genus (Kingston University, UK)
Marfuga Iskandarova (Kingston University, UK)
Community renewable energy promises to reduce consumption of high carbon sources of power. In the UK community renewable energy generation remains marginal, arguably undermined by changing government policies but also possibly by institutional factors which are not usually recognised. Recent contributions have identified perspectives which appear to explain the influence of policy on ‘grassroots’, including community, initiatives, such as strategic niche management and niche policy advocacy, pointing the way towards the adoption of a critical niche perspective of bottom-up transformation of energy systems. However, discourse-institutional perspectives have thus far been neglected. The paper therefore advances a discourse-institutional perspective on the basis of which data is analysed from interviews with 29 actors connected with community renewable energy in the UK. It concludes that a discourse-institutional perspective may shed light on the transformative potential of community renewable energy. Such an approach helps to identify the structural and relational features pertaining to community renewable energy highlighting the role of discourse in its institutionalisation. The approach also helps to shed light on how new institutional rules, organisational forms and energy generation practices are created and factors contributing to institutional change and inertia within the field. By adopting and advancing a discourse-institutional approach, the study contributes a fresh perspective on challenges facing community energy, focusing on discourses and institutions which are facilitative of or blunt its capacity to contribute effectively to societal transformation.
Perspectives on the social, political and cultural dynamics of energy: developing a collective agenda for the social science and humanities
Rosie Robison (Anglia Ruskin University, UK)
Chris Foulds (Anglia Ruskin University, UK)
There is widespread recognition of the importance of learnings from the social science and humanities (SSH) in understanding and (potentially) enabling low-carbon energy transitions. However the majority of energy research funding is directed towards technological projects, within which certain SSH disciplinary paradigms and framings may sit more easily than others. Reasons for this can include differences in language, as well as conflicting epistemological and ontological frameworks. Overcoming such challenges is not straightforward, and the need for greater support for energy-related SSH has been reflected in the latest Horizon 2020 Energy Work Programme.

In this context, this paper will outline the development of a new European Research & Innovation Agenda for energy-SSH, led by the H2020 funded SHAPE-ENERGY Platform (Social sciences andHumanities for Advancing Policy in European Energy). This agenda will be a collective opportunity for both those who produce and those who use energy-SSH to highlight how considerations of the social, political and cultural dynamics of energy can be better embedded into policymaking, innovation and research in the next decade, as well as how funding programmes might help mobilise this. In particular, this paper will report on findings from SHAPE-ENERGY’s online call for evidence, which targets 250+ responses from those involved in innovative energy interventions across Europe, including researchers from across the spectrum of SSH, business, policymakers, NGOs and citizens. We will explore what communities of SSH researchers themselves see the role of SSH as being in shaping future energy policy, and highlight key themes from the call (both the popular and the potentially overlooked), from gender and energy justice, to barriers to action.
ENERGISE: Establishing a European Network for Research Good Practice and Innovation for Sustainable Energy
Frances Fahy (National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland)
Energy practices adopted by households and communities reflect prevailing energy cultures, that is, social and cultural factors that influence collective energy demand and create variations in energy use within and between countries. Drawing on and extending existing work on energy cultures, the ENERGISE project focuses specifically on shared norms and conventions and related forms of energy governance that shape and reflect energy consumption practices in households. By appropriating and modifying the concept of energy cultures, ENERGISE explicitly recognises cultural change as a key ingredient of successful energy sustainability transitions, including reductions in household energy consumption and the prevention of subsequent rebound and 'backfire' effects. Understanding energy cultures and their potential modification is also central to advancing EU energy policy. Combining an emphasis on energy cultures with a focus on the wider societal context of energy practices, this paper examines the socio-cultural and systemic factors that influence efforts towards reducing energy use. Moving beyond much conventional sustainable energy consumption research, the paper presents an innovative conceptual framework connecting individual-level, organisational and institutional and societal influences on household energy practices. Importantly, the paper explores options for changing the quality and quantity of energy use through individual-level and community-based initiatives that recognise the role of both routines (e.g. daily habits around heating and electricity use) and ruptures (e.g. accidental & deliberate energy blackouts) in shaping household energy consumption. Possible variations in the (in)effectiveness of these initiatives both within and between countries will receive particular attention.