RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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300 Consumer to Citizens: Reconfiguring the human factor in energy (2)
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 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
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 (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Contemporary processes of energy citizenship: locating participation currents linked to energy transitions and energy futures
Alexandra Revez (National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland)
Niall Dunphy (University College Cork, Ireland)
As a public policy issue energy has historically been a divided arena, in fact, in most countries these divisions were constructed along different fuel sources such as coal, natural gas, nuclear power and electricity generation. The need for a cohesive and integrated public policy response became more pressing and publicly visible at the start of the 1970’s in response to the oil crisis in 1970’s. Ever since, other critical concerns such as the peak oil crisis and growing alarm over rising CO2 emissions linked to climate change have stressed the interrelated manner of energy issues with other domains in society which has meant substantial development of more sophisticated forms of public policy related to energy. It can be argued that, recent policy agendas have attempted to promote two highly distinct energy paths, one which promotes technological development and the securitization of resources to maintain the existing status quo and another form of alternative energy system which places greater emphasis on sustainable energy production, consumption and conservation. A greater role for communities and individuals as energy citizens with duties and responsibilities is advanced in the development and implementation of these emerging energy policies which presuppose greater political restructuring in terms of planning and policy implementation, energy service provision, and resource ownership. This paper locates and critically examines how these policy changes are staged and enacted at community level. Using empirical evidence and secondary materials we provide a detailed account of different forms of community citizenship being promoted and we consider their implications in terms of benefits to local people and ability to promote sustainable energy transitions.
Community energy transitions: Lessons for community engagement from residential biomass energy
Stephen Axon (Liverpool John Moores University, UK)
Rosita Aiesha (Liverpool John Moores University, UK)
John Morrissey (Liverpool John Moores University, UK)
Given the need for radical transformations to the ways in which energy is produced and consumed, the energy sector is undergoing changes towards more a more diversified, low-carbon and decentralised production model. To date, the transitions literature has framed energy transitions as a process involving material and social consequences. Such radical changes can also be viewed as constituting discursive dimensions, involving debate, idea exchange and value positioning. This important discursive element has been neglected somewhat by academic studies, and significantly in energy system decision-making; primarily undertaken by politicians and stakeholders already established in the energy system. Focusing on the implementation of a biomass energy system in residential buildings in a socio-economically deprived community in Liverpool, UK, this paper draws upon focus group and interview data to investigate how practical, on-the-ground energy transitions are debated and framed at the community level. Findings illustrate that while many individuals suggest a much larger role for renewable energy as part of their energy vision, biomass energy is not ranked as highly given their experiences with how the system was implemented in their home. Given the changes to how residents pay for their energy, from a prepayment meter to a pay-as-you-use method, considerations of ‘efficiency’ are debated and framed according to the cost of energy rather than from an environmental performance perspective. Therefore, how biomass energy systems are designed, communicated, governed and implemented strongly influences how it is framed in the minds of users, and subsequently, their practices. The resulting unacceptability of, and resistance to, the biomass energy system has implications for future sustainability-related interventions. Suggestions for an enhanced role for local community members in local energy transitions, specifically with regard to agency and decision-making dialogues are grounded in outcomes from an extensive local community stakeholder engagement process. The paper draws upon the findings from this extensive community stakeholder engagement to develop a series of insights and policy implications for community energy transitions.
Beyond behaviour change: Prospects for low carbon urban intermediaries intervening in social practices in Victoria, Australia
Ralph Horne (RMIT University, Australia)
Susie Moloney (RMIT University, Australia)
In Australia, there were just 8,000 rooftop solar PV systems in 2008; by 2016 this had ballooned more than 1.5 million - roughly 1 in 6 dwellings nationally. The rush to domestic solar has connected some 4 million people into co-management arrangements as both producers and consumers in domestic energy arrangements, with apparently unforeseen ramifications for policy. What might emerge given those millions of customers who may soon have access to storage technology to manage ‘their’ new resource harvest locally? This paper examines the role of Climate Change Alliances (CCAs) - a particular form of intermediary organisation (Hodson et al 2013) seeking to advance the low carbon energy transition at the household level. They operate within and between not for profit, government and business organisations. Specifically, we examine the prospects for such organisations’ intervening in social practices at the household level. We do this by (a) revealing their organisational business model and networks; their capabilities, skills and learning processes; evidence of their innovation and experimentation, including specifically their involvement in actions and projects pertaining to behaviour/social change; retrofitting/demonstration; transition and advocacy (after McGuirk et al, 2014) and (b) examining their attempts at interventions at the household level and speculating on their potential to prompt shifts in social practices. In this regard, we follow Spurling and McMeekin, (2015) in asking how could practices be reframed through (a) changing elements (b) substituting one practice for another, or (c) focussing on how bundles of practices intersect and so are co-dependent. Our conclusions propose that there is fertile ground in using such an approach to reconfigure behaviour change approaches, but that there also remain significant challenges in these approaches.
The Path to Climate Citizens – German roles, experiences, challenges and opportunities amongst the citizens of Heidelberg and the administrative district Steinfurt
Frieder Rubik (Institute for Ecological Economy Research, Germany)
Ria Mueller (Institute for Ecological Economy Research, Germany)
The German government’s decision to phase out nuclear energy requests the transformation of Germany’s energy system encompassing a process of societal change. The research project 'Climate-Citizen' examined how German local public authorities become aware, engage and take advantage of “their” citizens responsibly shaping the transformation process. Research investigated new and altered 'roles' of individuals within this process – not just as consumers. In the role of 'investors and producers' citizens take action in energy supply (e.g. financial contribution into renewable energy systems or related infrastructure projects, electricity or heat production for personal usage from their own renewable system). In the role of 'political protagonists' citizens may influence the development of renewable energies and related changes in infrastructural conditions - either supportive or obstructive - by engaging in formal and informal political processes. The particular project approach lied in considering individual motives, influencing local framework conditions and effects of the various roles and parameters in reference to each other - respecting possible interactions and spillover-effects. It applied quantitative and qualitative empirical methods such as interviews, focus groups and »field test. Main project outcomes are the guidance "Der Weg zum Klimabürger" and two energy saving competitions in Germany addressing customers of the municipal utility Heidelberg and engaging sports clubs in the administrative district Steinfurt (North Rhine Westphalia).
The paper and presentation will focus on results concerning participation behavior, willingness to participate and underlying psychological factors as well as roles and possible measures of cities and municipalities to support the citizens.
Learning about the home: Engaging people with energy and environmental monitoring data through technology and citizen science
Georgina Wood (University of Birmingham, UK)
Rosie Day (University of Birmingham, UK)
Dan van der Horst (The University of Edinburgh, UK)
Shuli Liu (Coventry University, UK)
Traditionally, domestic energy monitoring research has focused on assembling large scale quantitative datasets with supporting qualitative data collection. In these situations, the potential for participants to learn from the data being collected from their homes is likely to be limited. In this paper we report findings from a 6 month trial of an energy monitoring system and novel interactive in-home display app in 19 social housing properties in the Midlands of the UK. The app (the 'Energy Dashboard') was designed in collaboration with the project's social housing provider partner in order to support learning about gas and electricity use as well as indoor environmental conditions (namely relative humidity, carbon dioxide and indoor temperature). After participants had used the app for a short period, a series of 'Energy Challenges' encouraged them to take an active role in the project, exploring their readings and providing researchers with rich information to contextualise the monitoring data. In this way a form of citizen science took place, supporting experiential learning about participants' own homes and the impacts of their daily activities, Interviews at the start and end of the trial brought to light how participants learned about their energy use and indoor environment; shifting relations between human an non-human actants in relation to energy use and comfort; and the negotiation of different (and sometimes conflicting) forms of feedback: from the app, the home and other residents. We explore the impact of the reflective learning process and relations within the home on measured utility use and indoor environmental conditions across the course of the trial.