RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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182 Energy Learning and Social Change
Affiliation Energy Geographies Research Group
Convenor(s) Heather Lovell (University of Tasmania, Australia)
Vanesa Castán Broto (University College London, UK)
Chair(s) Vanesa Castán Broto (University College London, UK)
Timetable Thursday 31 August 2017, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Skempton Building, Room 163
Session abstract This session will explore how learning takes place in the energy sector, and the extent to which such energy learning is linked to broader transformative processes of social change, with papers covering the following themes: experimentation, materiality and learning; the geographies of innovation and learning; and postcolonial forms of social learning.

Achieving sustainable energy systems requires new knowledge, practices, cultures, and technologies. Multiple types of learning are therefore at work in transitions towards sustainable energy, including social learning – defined as collective learning that enables social change (Reed, Evely et al. 2010). Experimentation is also a means for learning in that it allows for the generation of experiential knowledge about what constitutes sustainable energy, and makes visible new ideas or helps to put them in practice, which in turn accumulates as part of the collective memory. Energy learning is integral to the codification of new energy sector practices, routines, and rules, as well as the questioning and abandonment of previously held paradigms and established ways of doing things (Pahl-Wostl, Tabara et al. 2008, Pahl-Wostl, Nilsson et al. 2011). The session aims to build on theories of innovation and learning drawn from analysis of public policy (Bennett and Howlett 1992; Bulkeley 2006), and science and technology studies (Shapin and Schaffer 1985; Seyfang and Smith 2007; Markard, Raven et al. 2012), as well as scholarship on social learning (Reed, Evely et al. 2010; Keen, Brown et al, 2005).
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Energy learning in off-grid regions – the role of practitioners and community organisers
Carmen Dienst (Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy GmbH, Germany)
Julia Terrapon-Pfaff (Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy GmbH, Germany)
Willington Ortiz (Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy GmbH, Germany)
Marie-Christine Gröne (Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy GmbH, Germany)
The long-term success of decentralised renewable energy projects (DREs) is highly dependent on non-technical aspects. This is widely recognised in the literature and among organisations active in development cooperation. To ensure long-term sustainability, adequate capacity-building is a prerequisite, including technical training and management skills. In addition to sufficient knowledge and skills, success factors are clearly linked to the needs of the beneficiaries and strategies for addressing these needs, such as motivation and satisfaction. The involvement of local groups and the long-term commitment of implementing organisations are also crucial. These findings are supported by the results of two studies conducted by the authors in 2015 and 2012, which evaluated 30 and 23 small-scale energy projects two to eight years after completion. These globally distributed projects were supported under a Wuppertal Institute initiative. Particularly in regions with no or limited access to energy, these projects can be understood as interventions that trigger and accompany transformative processes, impacting significantly on the energy end users and the community. Different groups play specific roles within the implementation process. In community projects in South East Asia, local community organisers are essential for ensuring strong community motivation. In this paper, the authors analyse three micro-hydro power projects in Malaysia and a recently completed active knowledge exchange between community organisers in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, all supported by the Wuppertal Institute programme. The paper and presentation focus on the role of the local practitioners, the facilitators of transformation, and the importance of the community organisers.
From Global Kinds of Knowledge to Frontline Struggles: Labour Environmentalism and the Fight for Energy Democracy
Franziska Paul (University of Glasgow, UK)
This paper engages with ‘energy democracy’ to contribute to a better understanding of how energy and energy spaces are shaped, contested and politicised through exploring how key actors are involved in shaping the spatial politics of energy transitions. Calls for energy democracy have recently been voiced by a range of actors in the global North and South and provide a powerful narrative for more democratically accountable, ecologically sustainable and socially just energy futures. Energy democracy provides a framework that potentially unites a broad actor base, including social movements, environmentalists, and labour organisations in a collective struggle against corporate, extractivist, and profit-driven energy systems. Building on qualitative fieldwork conducted with the global labour organisation ‘Trade Unions for Energy Democracy’ (TUED) and participating unions in New York City, USA, this paper explores knowledge and skill-sharing practices around issues of climate change and energy governance in a labour environmentalist context. The paper explores the terms on which ‘global kinds of knowledge’ (Hulme, 2010) around energy and climate change are mediated, understood and contested by union activists, and examines how pathways to action are framed and practiced despite difficulties of introducing ‘green’ topics in labour contexts. Through illustrating different acts of learning, experimentation and skill- and experience-sharing within and between unions, the paper ultimately conceptualises frontline struggles as expressions of contentious energy learning and practice.
Learning, societal benefits and energy smart meters in the home
Dan van der Horst (The University of Edinburgh, UK)
According to the socio-technical transitions literature, learning is a key social process taking place in niche innovations (Geels, 2012). The roll out of energy smart meters in domestic environments provides a great opportunity to critically examine lessons learned in various national settings where such ‘experiments’ have been shaped by different forms of state policy intervention, private sector strategies, societal responses etc. Informed by various types of learning in the pedagogic literature, this paper explores what the process of ‘successful adoption’ may look like from the perspectives of different stakeholders and the extent to which different adoption pathways from a MLP perspective, are characterised by different forms of learning experienced and pursued by different actors. The paper concludes with a discussion on the role of learning to secure the aspired 'societal benefits' of energy smart meters in the home.
The need for people’s participation in renewable energy transitions: learning from the European fight for community ownership
Anne Schiffer (Leeds Beckett University, UK)
Fossil fuel addiction of the global energy sector is a key driver of anthropogenic climate change. At the same time huge inequalities exist regarding levels of access in different parts of the world. According to the International Energy Agency, 1.2 billion people globally are without access to electricity, in addition to which many face unreliable or insufficient supply. These are largely concentrated in developing Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Inequalities also exist between citizens of industrialised countries where energy poverty of so-called ‘fuel-poor’ households is limited by the ability to pay. As such, the global transition to renewable energy is both a challenge for climate mitigation and energy equality. Recently, projects such as Community Power have demonstrated the value of people’s participation at local, national and European policy level. Here, community ownership is seen as key in securing public support for renewable energy transitions as well as ensuring that benefits of renewable resources support circular energy economies. Specifically observing the role of Scottish leadership in the area of community and local ownership over the past four years, this paper explores opportunities for policy adaptations in global renewable transitions. Programmes that seek to deliver sufficient first time access including the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative, have an opportunity to leapfrog centralised regimes formerly demonstrated by the West. Here, policy for community including shared ownership models can offer entry points for citizen participation.
The University as an enabler of social learning for local sustainable energy: exploring the impacts of public engagement through a UK higher education course
Andrew Reeves (De Montfort University, UK)
A key aspect of social learning to promote decentralised sustainable energy systems is peer to peer interaction amongst stakeholders. Keen, Brown et al. (2005) characterise a pro-active approach to social learning as developing “learning partnerships, learning platforms, and learning ethics that support collective action” to enable more sustainable outcomes. Universities, as institutions with relevant knowledge, resources to enable knowledge sharing and a remit to promote the public good, can play a role as intermediaries to enable such social learning. This paper describes the initial results of a project to explore how social learning for sustainability can be supported within a local community of practitioners associated with a UK Masters course on social change for sustainability. The course’s usual teaching and learning activities were supplemented by interventions to develop learning and collaboration between students and practitioners. These comprised: practitioners attending sessions as co-learners; publishing a course blog and promoting interaction through social media accounts; and hosting public events with guest speakers and structured learning activities. Findings and questions for further study arising from the first year of this project are presented. Evaluation is based upon surveys of students and stakeholders after engagement with each activity. Surveys will capture data on the breadth and depth of engagement with the programme (e.g. number of attendees, evidence of critical reflection), reported learning outcomes and social network building. The findings will shed light on whether this novel approach to public engagement to support local sustainable energy transitions has potential to be taken up more widely.
Learning from policy failure in the energy sector
Heather Lovell (University of Tasmania, Australia)
This paper is about a case of policy failure and negative lesson drawing, namely the implementation of a mandatory smart metering program - the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) Program - in the State of Victoria, Australia, in the period 2009-13. The paper explores the framing of policy failure, and the ways in which failed polices might be mobile. The AMI Program provides an important empirical counterbalance to existing scholarship on policy learning, transfer and mobility, which is for the most part about positive best practice case studies, emulation, and the travelling of ‘fast’ and (by implication) successful policy. There is evidence that the Victorian AMI Program circulated domestically within Australia and was influential in policy decision making, but that its international mobility was limited. The case is used to explore what gets left behind - or is immobile - in the telling of policy stories about failure. Science and Technology Studies scholarship on the inherent fragility of sociotechnical networks is drawn upon to consider how the concept of assemblage - a popular conceptual lens within policy mobility scholarship - might be applied to better understand instances of policy failure.