Overview

This session concerns innovative research on reducing energy demand from a wide range of fields. It opens with a remote talk from the DEMAND Centre, UK, on Sweaters, Ovens and Student Life: Ordinary technologies and what they mean for energy demand. Dr. Elizabeth Shove introduced research which starts from the premise that energy is not used for its own sake but as part of accomplishing social practices at home, at work, and in moving around. Janine Morley then presented insights from her PhD research, which followed such an approach to investigate patterns of energy demand in student accommodation. Then our visiting speaker Dr. Clinton J. Andrews discussed how his Center for Green Building at Rutgers University embraces multi-disciplinarity when studying energy usage, including the value of using social science methods to inform engineering decisions. Finally, Dr. Saifur Rahman discussed the work of the Advanced Research Institute at Virginia Tech on smart grid technology innovation.

This talk in particular highlights some differences in tools that are used to reduce energy consumption: the focus of these tools varies greatly, some placing more emphasis on technological fixes (e.g. smart grids), some on market-based strategies (e.g. the Energy Benchmarking program), and some on more social approaches (e.g. understanding and changing practices).

Dr. Rahman compared the difference between smart grids and the extant grid to the difference between a smart phone and a regular phone - the smart version does what the regular version does, but it also does a lot more, and costs a lot more.
Dr. Rahman compared the difference between smart grids and the extant grid to the difference between a smart phone and a regular phone – the smart version does what the regular version does, but it also does a lot more, and costs a lot more.

Related Resources (video, suggested reading, and other links)

Full Get Innovative with Energy Session –

Q&A Highlights –

  • Elizabeth Shove posited that energy efficient technologies can and do actually sustain unsustainable practices.  Does the smart grid sustain this “normality” by enabling encouraging consumption in a more efficient way?  Smart grids can improve sustainability, but perhaps, due to their often invisible nature, have less potential for changing practices (possibly in a way that reinforces existing practices). Rahman: The objective, from both the engineering perspective and the consumer perspective, is to save energy but not reduce standards of lifestyle. Smart grid technologies encourage very minor and subtle changes in behaviors, if they are designed in a way that is aware of the users and learns from their existing practices.  Andrews: The matter is complicated by the fact that it takes time to change practices.  Engineers often have unrealistic ideas of the timescales for change in practices.
Dr. Shove and Dr. Morley argued for a more structural explanation of energy use practices.
Dr. Shove and Dr. Morley argued for a more structural explanation of energy use practices.
  • What is the best way to drive change in practices?  Should it come from policy or from social pressures or something else?  Andrews: Elizabeth was very skeptical of policy as a driver of change, and rightly so.  Subsidies are not going to be enough for all users to make the change. Until there is cost parity between traditional and more sustainable options, policy will be ineffective as a major driving force of change.  Policy plays a role in getting new options to the point where they can be competitive.  Rahman: Policy works at the level of, say, utilities, but not at an individual level.  For example, if water companies receive a mandate to reduce output, consumers’ practices will change in response.  Andrews: Transitions management literature provides an interesting punctuated evolution perspective on how to prepare for windows opportunity, and policy works can help prepare for that moment by incubating many potential niche options that could be scaled up when the time is right.  Somewhat idealistic, but potentially useful.
  • If people knew the impact of their behavior, would they be more responsive?  Rahman: Yes, information relevant to behavior can itself incentivize changes in practices, and smart grid/meter technologies and mobile apps help facilitate this.  Sheller: Elizabeth argued that this “attitude, behavior, choice” (ABC) approach is flawed and these cultural and national differences in conceptualization of transitions vary.  In the US, the model seems more individualistic, economized, and based on a rational choice actor.  This is likely different in Europe, where there are different cultural models of how social change occurs.  Rahman: There is no one solution – we need to make multiple options available and people will adopt whatever works best with their needs and ideologies.  Andrews: US social science tends to focus on personal agency, while European social science tends to focus on structural factors, and the best answer might lie somewhere in between.  It might also be useful to distinguish between habitual behaviors and reasoned behaviors, and this ABC approach is useful in determining how and when to best change practices.
Dr. Rahman argued for a hierarchical structure for the stages necessary for acceptance of smart grid technologies.
Dr. Rahman argued for a hierarchical structure for the stages necessary for acceptance of smart grid technologies.
  • What are the options and prospects for energy storage technologies to help mitigate the issues associated with the intermittency of alternative energy sources?   Rahman: It’s a matter of economization – it will not be worth it until the price goes down, the possibility of making money off of them improves, or more options such as after market  electric vehicle battery use.  Andrews: There are still a lot of social and engineering questions to get worked out, and it is not clear which technology will work best for our needs.

Relevant Links –

The Center for Energy and the Global Environment website – CEAGE is a part of the Advanced Research Institute at Virginia Tech which focuses on research, education, and training related to energy and information systems (including data security). The site provides resources for teaching and collaborative learning, as well as conference and journal papers related to their work.

The DEMAND Centre website – The Dynamics of Energy, Mobility, and Demand research center at Lancaster University  provides a wide range of information and resources related to energy use and the specific research that the center is involved with.

Saifur Rahman’s professional website – Dr. Rahman’s website collects his other invited talks, publications, and workshops as other potential resources for information about energy innovation.

Further Reading –

Clinton J. Andrews, Regulating Regional Power Systems (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995).

Clinton J. Andrews, Humble Analysis: The Practice of Joint Fact-Finding (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002).

Dana Abi Ghanem and Sarah Mander, “Designing Consumer Engagement with the Smart Grids of the Future: Bringing Active Demand Technology to Everyday Life,” Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 26, no. 10 (November 26, 2014): 1163–75, doi:10.1080/09537325.2014.974531.

Elizabeth Shove, Mika Pantzar, and Matt Watson, The Dynamics of Social Practice: Everyday Life and How It Changes (SAGE Publications, 2012).

Elizabeth Shove and Nicola Spurling, Sustainable Practices: Social Theory and Climate Change (Routledge, 2013).

Pierluigi Siano, “Demand Response and Smart grids—A Survey,” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 30 (February 2014): 461–78, doi:10.1016/j.rser.2013.10.022.

R. Socolow, Industrial Ecology and Global Change (Cambridge University Press, 1997).

Iana Vassileva, Fredrik Wallin, and Erik Dahlquist, “Understanding Energy Consumption Behavior for Future Demand Response Strategy Development,” Energy, Energy and Exergy Modelling of Advance Energy Systems, 46, no. 1 (October 2012): 94–100, doi:10.1016/j.energy.2012.02.069.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the advantages and limits to approaching energy consumption reduction from the perspective of A) new technological solutions, B) changes in behaviors and practices, and C) technological options coupled with behavioral changes?  Are the first two options mutually exclusive (at least to a degree), as Dr. Shove seemed to imply by saying that more efficient technologies reproduce unsustainable practices?
  2. Dr. Shove argued that energy consumption is more structurally determined than traditional narratives that focus on individual “attitude, behavior, and choice” would allow.  Instead, she sees the influence of larger-scale, institutionalized factors as central.  How can we reconcile this possibility with the individual-focused, neoliberal climate in which (at least in the US) these systems operate?  What needs to be done to acknowledge and bring into practice the influence of supra-individual factors?
  3. In answering the question “If people knew the impact of their behavior, would they be more responsive?” each speaker gave a very different response, focusing on different levels of individual agency, structural power, and contextual/cultural variation (particularly with respect to where social scientists look for answers).  Which of these arguments was most convincing, and why?  What are the strong and weak points of each?  Could the answer, be, as Dr. Andrews suggests, “somewhere in between?”
  4. What are the implications of Dr. Shove’s proposition that energy is “used as part of doing or accomplishing social practices” rather than used as an end in itself?  What does this mean for some of the other approaches to consumption reduction that the Shifting Energy Culture Project has highlighted (such as smart grids or the energy benchmarking program)?

Speaker Biographies

Elizabeth Shove, “Sweaters, Ovens and Student Life: Ordinary Technologies and what they mean for energy demand” (2:44).  Dr. Shove is Professor of Sociology and co Director of the DEMAND (Dynamics of energy,  mobility and demand) research centre at Lancaster University.   Recent books include Sustainable Practices: social theory and climate change, edited with Nicola Spurling (Routledge 2013) and The Dynamics of Social Practice, with Mika Pantzar and Matt Watson (Sage 2012).  She is interested in the social foundations of energy demand, and keen to bring a wider range of social theory into discussions of changing patterns both of energy consumption and of mobility. (Elizabeth Shove and Janine Morley’s slides)

Janine Morley, “Sweaters, Ovens and Student Life: Ordinary Technologies and what they mean for energy demand” (2:44).Dr. Morley is a Senior Research Associate in the DEMAND Centre at Lancaster University. She is a sociologist who studies the relationships between everyday practices, objects, infrastructures and resource-use, with a particular interest in energy demand and information technologies. Her recent PhD research investigated how domestic energy use associated with cooking, thermal comfort and computing varies and has changed in relation to common, everyday activities. (Elizabeth Shove and Janine Morley’s slides)

Clinton J. Andrews, “Energy Research Linking People, Technology, and Context” (34:36). Dr. Andrews directs the Center for Green Building and is a professor and associate dean at the Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. He teaches planning methods and energy and environmental policy. His research addresses behavioral, policy and planning questions related to energy use in the built environment. Dr. Andrews was educated at Brown and MIT as an engineer and planner. He has worked in the private sector as a design engineer and technology assessor, helped launch an energy planning project at MIT, and helped to found a science policy program at Princeton. At Rutgers, he has launched initiatives in energy planning and green building. His current work focuses on simulation modeling tools to characterize occupant behavior, energy use and indoor environmental quality in buildings, and the upward links to network infrastructures and real property markets. Among his publications are the books Humble Analysis: The Practice of Joint fact-Finding, Regulating Regional Power Systems, and Industrial Ecology and Global Change.  (Clinton Andrews’ Slides)

Dr. Andrews charted out the path from start to finish for building efficiency - from design and standards through construction and indirect influences.
Dr. Andrews charted out the path from start to finish for building efficiency – from design and standards through construction and indirect influences.

Saifur Rahman, “Benefits and Challenges of the Smart Grid” (58:52). Dr, Rahman is the founding director of the Advanced Research Institute (www.ari.vt.edu) at Virginia Tech where he is the Joseph R. Loring professor of electrical and computer engineering. He also directs the Center for Energy and the Global Environment (www.ceage.vt.edu).  He is a Fellow of the IEEE and an IEEE Millennium Medal winner.  He is the founding editor-in-chief of the IEEE Electrification Magazine. He was also the founding editor-in-chief of IEEE Transactions on Sustainable Energy. He served as a vice president of the IEEE Power and Energy Society (PES) from 2009 to 2013 and currently serving as a member of the Board of Governors of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology (SSIT). In 2006 he served on the IEEE Board of Directors as the vice president for publications. He served as the chair of the US National Science Foundation Advisory Committee for International Science and Engineering from 2010 to 2013. He is a Distinguished Lecturer for the IEEE Power & Energy Society, and has lectured on smart grid, energy efficiency, renewable energy, demand  response, distributed generation and critical infrastructure protection topics in over 30 countries on all six continents.  (Saifur Rahman’s slides)