TRACK Towards Low-Carbon Energy and Mobility Systems


S25: Smart energy systems innovation: What do we learn from niche experiments?

Michael ORNETZEDER (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna), Jürgen SUSCHEK-BERGER (IFZ - Interdisciplinary Research Centre for Technology, Work and Culture), Austria

The on-going transition towards more sustainable energy systems is leading to a broad range of innovation activities. In recent years a large number of pilot and demonstration projects have been launched all over Europe. Plus-energy settlements, smart grid testbeds, smart meter field trials, hybrid electricity and heat infrastructure solutions, e-mobility initiatives, integrated mobility approaches, and many more have been implemented and tested under real-world conditions. However, these showcases still represent experimental niches that are far from being mainstream solutions. Before this background we may ask and discuss the following questions:

• What can be learned from those local experiments with novel socio-technical configurations?

• What do we know about particular projects? Do they meet their own targets? What positive and negative effects do they show? Will they bring about systemic change?

• Are we able to understand and assess such experiments in an adequate manner? Or is there a need to improve our research strategies and methods? What can be learned from evaluation research?

• Could we expect that achieved solutions easily can be transferred to mainstream settings?
• What role could Technology Assessment and STS research play in this respect in the future? And what is there to do for discursive approaches, like scenario building or future vision exercises?

KEYWORDS: sustainable energy systems, pilot projects, innovation, technology assessment, STS



S26: Governing by tension or use? RES in transition and the role of communities of citizens and users in fostering sustainability in South Europe

Stathis ARAPOSTATHIS (University of Athens), Greece; Martin J. IVANOV (IAS-STS, Graz & ISSK-BAS, Sofia), Bulgaria

Recent approaches in transition studies call for more inclusive governance by emphasizing  democratic participation in decision making as well as public engagement in the technological design and innovation assessment. The present section proposal aims to focus on processes of the co-production of RES with local communities. The local communities are understood both as social groups, engaged citizens and involved stakeholders as well as local users in the making of RES projects and relevant innovations. While the work from North European and North American cases is abundant, we know very little about South Europe and in general cases from the so-called Global South. We are seeking to study and understand: the role of local communities in the making or unmaking of transitions; their agency in challenging sociotechnical regimes towards sustainable development; the obstacles they enforce or experience as stakeholders and regime actors; their function and performance as users of RES technologies (wind, photovoltaic, biomass, small hydro etc.); the performativity of their public visions and discourses in legitimizing specific technologies and systems; the tensions over the use and exploitation of regional common. By providing in depth analysis of the function and agency of communities in the South we aim to understand social, cultural, organizational, technological and structural specificities that might unravel the sociotechnical interactions and reproductions of the communities of European or Global South as different from those of North America and North European settings.     

The general questions of the session are:

  1. What is the role of local communities in the making of transitions in South Europe/Global South?

  2. How structural social, political, economic and cultural characteristics have defined and shaped the communities’ agency and roles in developing technologies or assessing sociotechnical transitions towards low carbon future?

  3. How do local actors resist or participate in the governance patterns of technologies in sustainable transitions?

  4. How do collective action, tensions and contestations shaped grassroots innovations or/and RES niche technologies and configured their integration in a transformed regime?

Abstracts of 300 words, accompanied by a short CV of the author(s), are welcome on: material politics of communities, sociotechnical imaginaries, inclusive governance patterns, reactions on transitions etc. and can cover cases studies about wind turbines, PV plants, small hydro plants, biomass facilities etc. We would welcome both comparative and sole stand cases, as well as national and transnational cases. The objective of the session is to function as the first stage of a publication initiative for a special issue. In this context, we ask the selected authors to pre-circulate 3,000 words paper a week before the meeting to the rest of the session.

KEYWORDS: RES, South Europe, grassroots innovations, communities, governance