RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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270 Consumer to Citizens: Reconfiguring the human factor in energy (1)
Affiliation Planning and Environment 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) Stephen Axon (Liverpool John Moores University, UK)
Timetable Friday 01 September 2017, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room RGS-IBG Council Room - DO NOT USE 2020
Session abstract Efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of energy have, to date, focused on designing energy-efficient technologies and developing renewable sources of energy. In recent years, there has been an emerging consensus that changes to individual and collective practices 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 lock individuals into certain patterns of (often inefficient) energy use. The result has been an increasing focus on 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. There is a growing recognition of the need to reconfigure the human dimension to the energy system – from one where people are largely consigned a rather passive ‘active consumer’ role to that of a more engaged, rights-based ‘energy citizen’ that empowers and mobilises meaningful participation in the energy transition. In order to engage individuals more meaningfully with sustainability, and to more accurately reflect the emerging, dispersed and decentralised energy system, new understanding of the concepts and practice of energy citizenship are required. This session aims to bring together papers that offer new understandings towards new forms of citizenship and practices involved with transitions to a low-carbon energy society and future.
Linked Sessions Consumer to Citizens: Reconfiguring the human factor in energy (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Activating the Energy Citizen? Negotiation and Agency at the Community Level in the Energy Transition
Breffni Lennon (University College Cork, Ireland)
Niall Dunphy (University College Cork, Ireland)
European energy systems are currently undergoing a profound technological transformation towards low-carbon, socio-economic frameworks. This energy transition has to date largely focused on top-down, technocratic solutions that rarely incorporate the human dimension and as such underline a significant potential weakness of those efforts. By recognising that that it is people who essentially lie at the heart of the energy transition, this paper proposes to explore how notions of citizenship inform local people’s responses to this transition. It presents perspectives from two quite different communities. One is located in a predominantly rural area in Ireland, whereas the other occupies an urban neighbourhood in France. These two communities face considerable challenges as they embark on their energy-transition pathways and the intersectional experiences of individuals within those communities, as they negotiate the many (and sometimes hidden) competing landscapes of social and economic power relations, are explored. Quite often individuals have been portrayed as merely ‘passive’ or ‘active’ consumers. However, in reality, local people occupy much more (re)active, participatory and sometimes conflicted spaces than this over-simplistic consumerist paradigm would suggest. Issues around agency in individual decision making, along with an often-deeper understanding of the efficacy of public policy and the socio-environmental parameters these people must negotiate inform this paper, with key findings from ENTRUST, an interdisciplinary H2020 research project exploring the human factor in the energy system being presented.
Energy system visioning: Community perspectives on transition and low-carbon configurations
John Morrissey (Liverpool John Moores University, UK)
Stephen Axon (Liverpool John Moores University, UK)
Rosita Aiesha (Liverpool John Moores University, UK)
Joanne Hillman (Liverpool John Moores University, UK)
An emerging low-carbon transition is evident across the European energy system, with a gradual shift underway from linear, highly centralised, fossil fuel powered energy grid, to a de-centralised, multi-source and multi-stakeholder one. Given the scale of the ‘emissions gap’, that is the difference between greenhouse gas emissions reductions currently committed to, and the level scientifically correlated to a 2°C level of warming, it is clear that more intensive, urgent and radical energy system transformation is required. Operationalising and implementing a 2°C carbon presents a challenge of unprecedented scale. From a policy and decision making perspective, efforts to date have primarily been characterised by top-down, technocratic approaches. For meaningful energy transition within the requisite time-frames, a reconfiguration of the human dimension of the energy system is needed, transforming passive ‘active consumer’ roles to a more engaged, empowered and mobilised citizenry. However, stakeholder oriented studies on energy transitions have to date tended to elicit expert stakeholders, with limited examples of studies which have explored local resident and community perspectives on the direction and nature of energy transitions. In this paper, a mixed methods approach is applied to gain insights into the complex understandings, expectations and feelings on energy practices, the energy system, and its future. A mix of citizen and expert opinions were canvased to identify preferred visions for the future energy system. Five distinct visions for the future of the energy system emerge from the analysis, constituting a portfolio of scenarios of what the energy system will transition to. The paper provides breadth and depth of understanding of how individuals make sense of low-carbon configurations for the energy system.
The Gender of Energy Citizenship
Christine Gaffney (University College Cork, Ireland)
Niall Dunphy (University College Cork, Ireland)
While it is the case that the energy transition has consisted primarily of top-down, technocratic, solutions – there have been moves to incorporate more socially oriented, participatory approaches to engage civic society in the transition to sustainability. The term ‘energy citizenship’ has emerged in the literature as an expression of the reconceptualization of the ‘consumer’ as the participating, agentic, energy citizen. However, the concept of the ‘energy citizen’ requires careful analysis and development lest it falls prey to the same, significant, omissions that the concept of ‘citizen’ does. The concept of the citizen, and citizenship, is founded on the public/private divide – a divide that, traditionally excluded women from decision-making processes in the public sphere, as well as from citizenship itself. In light of the fact that, although largely unacknowledged in the literature, the ‘average’ domestic energy user, that is, the person who is most responsible for decision-making with implications for energy consumption in the domestic setting, is most likely female. In the average household, the decisions made with regard to practices that consume the majority of energy in the home – heating, cooking, cleaning – are made by women. Technocratic top-down approaches treat household energy consumption as gender neutral, failing to recognise the connection between gender and energy use. Great care must be taken to ensure that the development of the ‘energy citizen’ does not replicate the same failing.
Product Service Systems: Exploring a More Sustainable Way for Consumers to Acquire Products
Nick Reed (University of Hertfordshire, UK)
Maurizio Catulli (University of Hertfordshire, UK)
The need to reduce environmental impacts of consumption has generated research into sustainable business models to enable more sustainable ways of living. One such business model is known as the Product Service System (PSS). A PSS is a system of products, services, networks of actors and supporting infrastructure, designed to be more sustainable than traditional business models. PSSs are said to be more sustainable because they enhance an economy’s resource productivity and resource efficiency, through refurbishment and reuse of products. PSSs could face behavioural implementation challenges because they may be perceived more negatively by consumers than more conventional modes of acquisition. This research explored how consumers construe rental of pushchairs by way of a PSS when compared to other modes of acquisition. The study applied Personal Construct Psychology (in particular, Repertory Grid Technique), which had not previously been used in relation to researching PSSs. Results suggest that PSS might be difficult to implement in relation to pushchairs. Renting pre-used equipment may meet resistance because consumers could perceive PSS as being less safe and hygienic than conventional ways of acquiring pushchairs. Participants construed buying new pushchairs from specialist infant product shops as the best means of acquisition, though they said that PSS would be a more environmentally friendly mode of acquisition. Accordingly, PSS providers may, for instance, have to implement certified quality assurance processes in order to reassure consumers.
Missing out on energy citizenship: pitfalls of delivering first-time access to modern energy services
Anne Schiffer (Leeds Beckett University, UK)
In recent years, increasing numbers of citizen-led energy initiatives that generate, distribute and/or supply energy, have demonstrated how the benefits of renewable resources can remain local, stimulate participation in and support for the transition towards 100% renewable energy. In the European contexts these initiatives range from remote island based community projects to co-operatives with 50,000 members. However, 1.2 billion people across the world currently live without access to electricity and many more suffer from unreliable or rationed supply. In practice, the urgency to deliver first time access to modern energy services, such as electricity, often takes priority over participatory forms of ownership and energy based on renewables. As such, the notion of leapfrogging the centralised and fossil-fuel based energy model of industrialised countries often remains an illusion. Instead communities longing for energy access are locked into linear energy metabolisms. Regular immersions in The Gambia over a six period, have highlighted how first time access to modern energy services has locked a rural community into a linear energy system both in terms of transport and power supply (Schiffer, 2016). This paper attempts to extrapolate lessons from this missed opportunity for the benefit of energy access programmes, such as the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative, which aims to deliver an additional 300GW of renewable generating capacity by 2030.