4-6 May 2020
Europe/Vienna timezone

C - Towards Low-Carbon Energy Systems

C.1 Just transitions, whole systems, and the lived experiences of decarbonisation pathways

Martisaknen, Mari (University of Sussex), Sovacool, Benjamin (University of Sussex), Turnheim, Bruno (University of Manchester), Hook, Andrew (University of Nottingham), Baker, Lucy (University of Sussex)

It is well-known that we need to reduce the vulnerabilities and risks associated with continued fossil fuel consumption. As such, rapid transitions to low-carbon energy and transport systems are required to address and mitigate the impact of polluting systems. While ‘low carbon’ systems are typically considered as preferable because they reduce carbon emissions, there may however be under-examined justice implications and impacts of such transitions. This session therefore aims to examine and discuss the under-explored justice implications and impacts of low-carbon transitions. We focus particularly in the ways that low-carbon transitions link to energy justice, and how low carbon transitions may worsen pre-existing vulnerabilities – or create new ones – for individuals and communities.

Our session aims to highlight the need for whole systems, multi-scalar analysis of low-carbon transitions using rigorous methods so that we can fully assess the social, economic, and environmental impacts of low-carbon transitions.  


KEYWORDS: energy justice, energy transitions, decarbonization, climate policys


C.2 Effective use of Stakeholder Management Technology to stimulate system innovation: a multiple case study of Energy Transition in NW Europe

Van Dijck, Egbert-Jan (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences)                                       

Tobe able to contribute towards the advancement of knowledge by adding something new, I ask for you contribution. If you are interested in joining an interactive session, and to contribute to my design-oriented PhD research proposal we see each other in Graz.

Driven by the outcome of our current research project, Interreg NWE HeatNet NWE, the goal of which was to enhance insight to overcome barriers preventing the development of 4th Generation District Heating and Cooling concepts (4DHC) in North-western Europe (NWE), a new research program is proposed. Purpose of this research is to add to analysis and explanation, specifications for interventions to transform present practices in the public sector and improve the effectiveness of future oriented demonstration projects initiated by local authorities. The ultimate aim is to accelerate the transition towards sustainable energy systems.

This practice-oriented, multiple case study aims to improve the understanding of ‘real-life situations’ in their own local context with regard to sustainability transitions from a multi-level perspective. It complements system innovation, sustainability transition, and stakeholder literature. Another objective of this research is to connect academic research and education in a way that knowledge and skills are imparted.

On a more practical level, it will give local authorities a tool to enhance insight into barriers and solutions in exemplar projects and the way barriers are closely linked to human and not human stakeholders in their geographical, political, and cultural context and the way they are using their power.

Method:  Fishbowl Session

During this session a small group of participants gets together in a circle, the ‘fishbowl’. Those outside the circle listen to what they are debating hypothesis. When those on the outside have something to contribute, they can change seats with someone in the fishbowl. If possible, the meeting organizers can provide attendees with live audio streaming by using their event app. No matter where they are at the meeting they can continue to be part of (or monitor) the discussion, even if they have to leave the room for a moment.


KEYWORDS: system innovation, sustainable energy transition, district heating and cooling systems, design-oriented research, situational analysis

C.3 Incumbent enterprises and sustainability transitions

Kungl, Gregor (University of Stuttgart)

This session explores the role of incumbent enterprises in the sustainable transformation of energy, mobility and food systems. In the field of transition research incumbent firms have traditionally been conceptualised as large, stable organisations which impede sustainable developments. Because of their vested interests and their entrenchment with the rules and the culture of socio-technical regimes they are expected to be unlikely to support radical changes (e.g. Geels 2004). More recently, however, scholars have moved beyond initial dichotomies (conservative regime actors vs. radical new entrants) and have shown that incumbents can well play diverse roles (e.g. van Mossel et al. 2018). Under some circumstances incumbents may re-orient towards new business models (e.g. Kungl and Geels 2018) or form coalitions with innovative new entrants (e.g. Apajalahti et al. 2018).

This session welcomes theoretical and empirical contributions from all fields of social sciences which deal with the diverse roles of incumbents in the course of sustainability transitions. We are as interested in reflections on reactive, manipulative or hostile activities as in elaborations on proactive, supportive strategies. It is of particular interest to find out under which conditions incumbents are likely to switch from resistance to support or vice versa. In this context we aim at bringing together research from different sectors such as energy, mobility or food and explore the various factors which can explain incumbent behaviour. We are thus interested in such diverse firms as electricity providers, car manufacturers and suppliers, food processing enterprises or retail chains. We particularly encourage submissions which engage in cross-sectoral or comparative analyses.

Topics of interest include (and go beyond):

  • The overcoming of incumbent inertia and the dissolution of organisational path dependence
  • The phenomena of political, economic or discursive power of big companies
  • The relevance of industry crises for the reorientation of established companies
  •  The importance of organisational cultures for sustainable sectoral transformation
  • The various forms of interaction between small actors and incumbents (collaboration, co-optation etc.)
  •  The interaction of incumbents across sectoral borders (e.g. foreign invasion, cross-sectoral collaboration)

Papers studying such issues and related topics are cordially invited.


Apajalahti, Eeva-Lotta; Temmes, Armi; Lempiälä, Tea (2018): Incumbent organisations shaping emerging technological fields: cases of solar photovoltaic and electric vehicle charging. In Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 30 (1), pp. 44–57.

Geels, Frank W. (2004): From sectoral systems of innovation to socio-technical systems: Insights about dynamics and change from sociology and institutional theory. In Research Policy 33, pp. 897–920.

Kungl, Gregor; Geels, Frank W. (2018): Sequence and alignment of external pressures in industry destabilisation: Understanding the downfall of incumbent utilities in the German energy transition (1998-2015). In Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 26, 78-100.

van Mossel, Allard; van Rijnsoever; Hekkert, Marko P. (2018): Navigators through the storm: A review of organization theories and the behavior of incumbent firms during transitions. In Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 26, pp. 44–63.


KEYWORDS: Incumbents, energy, mobility, food, barriers

C.4 Energy policy advice: What kind of scientific advice is needed to support the sustainability transition of energy systems?

Capari, Leo (Institute of Technology Assessment of the Austrian Academy of Sciences), Ornetzeder, Michael (Austrian Academy of Sciences), Suschek-Berger, Jürgen (Interdisciplinary Research Centre - IFZ)

Although the global energy system is still heavily based on fossil fuels, the shift towards a post-fossil future is clearly under way. Recent studies (e.g. REN21 2016, 17 ). show that the world has added more capacity for renewable power than coal, natural gas, and oil combined. In addition, there are signs that growth in the global economy and energy-related emissions may be starting to decouple. However, the upcoming transition to a decarbonized future is not an easy task. Hardly ever before has such a far-reaching change been intentionally accomplished. As a consequence, numerous uncertainties and unknowns come along with the transition of energy systems. Not only new opportunities arise, but also new risks and undesirable side effects are to be expected. Socio-technical change is extremely complex and can therefore only be managed to a limited extent by the political system.

This session offers the opportunity to discuss future challenges of research in the field of energy policy. We are looking forward to practical examples for the use of knowledge in advisory settings as well as new methodological and conceptual approaches and critical reflections.

The following questions are of particular importance: 

  • What can we learn from practical experience with energy policy advice? What can and should be done better? What do we know about possible knowledge gaps?
  • What role do reflexive research such as TA and STS play in the field of energy policy?
  • Do we need new institutions, theories and methods or do known approaches still provide satisfying results?
  • How important are quantitative and qualitative modelling approaches in this context? To what extend are these tools able to shape energy transition policies?
  • What challenges will research face when the energy transition really takes off?


KEYWORDS: Scientific energy policy advice, transition of energy systems, challenges and uncertainties, new approachess

C.5 Frames, imaginaries, and storylines in European shale gas futures

Jonn Axsen (Simon Fraser University), Abigail Martin (Sussex University), Benjamin Sovacool (Sussex University), Andy Stirling (Sussex University), Laurence Williams (Sussex University)

The recently announced moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in England potentially marks the end of one of the longest running and most enthusiastic pursuits of a domestic shale gas industry in Europe, and represents a possibly decisive blow for the dream of a ‘European shale gas revolution’. The move brings England into line with the rest of the UK and much of Europe where a variety of moratoria, bans and partial bans have been imposed on the controversial technique since 2011. Can we now talk of the failure of ‘fracking’ in Europe? How do these various European ‘failures’ compare? And why have they occurred across Europe in particular?

This session invites abstracts from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and with a range of methodological approaches that:

(1) consider the rationales, knowledges, and visions that underpinned the desire on the part of many actors across Europe to pursue the aim of exploiting domestic shale gas resources;

(2) reflect on the reasons for the failure on the part of these actors to bring this envisaged future about;

(3) compare different experiences of governance and public responses to shale gas within Europe or between Europe and elsewhere (e.g. Argentina, China, US, etc.); draw out the broader implications of the European shale gas case for environmental politics, low-carbon transitions, public participation in sociotechnical controversies, democratic governance and more besides.


KEYWORDS: Shale gas, natural gas, carbon policy, energy policy


C.6 Interventions and policy mixes focusing on individual factors and structure to change household energy consumption

Sohre, Annika, Schubert, Iljana,  Hess, Ann-Kathrin (University of Basel)

Energy transitions require not only changes of the supply system, but also radical changes of energy demand with high reductions of energy consumption (e.g. Switzerland set the target of 43% energy reduction per capita by 2035 compared to the year 2000). Different approaches, how to achieve this target, are discussed in society, with the focus either on individual or the context having to be amended for change. Likewise, most interventions to change household energy consumption either address the individual, hereby often focusing on values, attitudes, knowledge, and skills, or the frame conditions, such as the build environment, infrastructure, and technology. However, research has pointed out that more fundamental change is possible when both individual and structural factors are addressed (Verplanken and Wood, 2006). Particularly, routinized or habitual behavior, which account for 30-50 % of our daily behaviours, can be best targeted in a comprehensive approach entailing individual and structural components (e.g. Wood & Neal, 2009).

Why is this not done more often? Or is it done, but by different governance actors through separate interventions, and hence it is not recognized as a combined approach? For example, you might have a cargo-bike sharing scheme providing the sharing structure (frame condition), however training courses to ride a cargo bike (individual skills) are offered by the local administration. Hence, both individual and structural interventions might be on offer, however they are not interlinked.

In this session we would like to invite researchers and practitioners who specifically focus on interventions or policy mixes that combine both types, individual and structural factors, simultaneously to change energy consumption. More specifically, we would like to hear about examples where frame conditions and individual factors are addressed at the same time.

We are interested in critically discussing the merits of these combined approaches. Is there a difference when we speak of routines, such as taking a long shower every day, to purchasing decisions, such as buying a product? Is it equally important to combine these factors for these different types of behavior?

Are there success stories and what are the difficulties in combining individual and structural factors?

What is the implication for research (i.e., transcending disciplinary boundaries, developing new theories or combining theories)?


Verplanken, B., & Wood, W. (2006). Interventions to break and create consumer habits. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 25(1), 90-103.

Wood, W., Neal, D.T., 2009. The habitual consumer. Journal of Consumer Psychology 19, 579–592.


KEYWORDS: individual psychological factors, structural frame conditions, household energy consumption change, policy mixes, integrated interventions

C.7 Taking care of energy infrastructures

Loloum, Tristan, Fürst, Moritz, Bovet, Alain (Université de Lausanne)

The energy transition is often framed in terms of a technological challenge and an engineering problem, involving innovative design, efficient planning, and effective optimization of energy infrastructures and the built environment. This innovation-centric view tends to neglect the fact that ‘change’ often occurs once energy systems are already in place, through incremental adaptations, additions and enhancements. The focus on engineers, planners and designers also puts aside the many actors in charge of operating and maintaining such systems on a daily basis: grid operators, HVAC technicians, facility managers, installers, caretakers, etc.

Drawing on authors like Maria Puig de la Bellacasa (2017), Dona Haraway (2016) and Bruno Latour (2013), we argue that fixing ‘things’ and taking care of energy infrastructure implies more than maintaining their technical functioning: it means caring for the people who use them and their environments, and it requires active engagement, social skills and a sense of concern towards associations between humans and non-humans. The session therefore extends on current debates in science and technology studies and energy social science that (I) observe how classical dichotomies (e.g. between planning and operation, professionals and users, engineers and technicians, people and machines) are maintained, and sometimes contested and reconfigured; (II) investigate energy infrastructure and energy transition at the level of everyday lay and professional care-taking activities, i.e. considering energy practices as situated and culturally embedded realities rather than in terms of dominant paradigms of technological innovation and economic rationality.

This panel session invites contributors from all disciplinary horizons, looking at energy infrastructure “from below and within”, focusing on operation routines, control rooms, repair and maintenance, incremental improvements, “middle actors” (technicians, installers, controllers, caretakers, facility managers), disruption, practices of daily-use and socio-technical encounters. We particularly encourage prospective participants to emphasize the richness of empirical material in their presentations, exhibit visual and/or audio data, or even material objects that can form a basis for a fruitful discussion. If appropriate conditions are in place, the session will be introduced or followed up by a quick tour of the conference venue’s infrastructural backstage and a discussion with one of the building’s facility managers in order to get a concrete grasp of what energy infrastructure is, and what taking care of it actually entails.


KEYWORDS: energy infrastructure, care, operation, repair & maintenance, energy practices