Towards Low-Carbon Energy and Mobility Systems

S12: Towards a second stage of energy transition? – Socio-technical dimensions of sector coupling

KEMMERZELL, Jörg (Technical University of Darmstadt), NEUKIRCH, Mario (University of Stuttgart), Germany

The exnovation of fossil and nuclear technologies and their replacement by renewable energies - especially wind and solar power - is the core target of the transition towards a sustainable energy system. The German case shows that the pure installation of new wind and solar parks will not be sufficient for such a transition. Whereas taking into consideration a limited success in the electricity sector, a transition of the transport and heating sectors has hardly taken place!
However, at least in the German discourse on the energy transition, sector coupling (dominantly understood as an electrification of the energy sector through an interconnection of electricity, heating & cooling, and transport & mobility) became one of the key topics recently. Whereas the technological options and possible tools seem quite clear (immediate use of electricity to provide heat and mobility; development of storage media; production and treatment of hydrogen and synthetic fuels), sector coupling confronts the social and political world with specific challenges.
The proposed session discusses the general steps to be done to further electrify the energy system by solar and wind power, and the necessary modifications and adjustments to be made. Against this background, we will deal with crucial barriers and significant attainments. We encourage to submit papers that focus on empirical as well as theoretical aspects. Possible topics might be:

• Factors that support or hinder sector coupling
• Institutional and behavioural aspects of sector coupling as well as path dependencies
• Policy processes and policy integration
• Case studies and comparisons of energy systems with relatively high shares of volatile energy sources, where the issue of sector coupling comes to the fore
• Analysis of power structures and actor constellations

Therefore, a variety of theoretical approaches may be applied, e.g.:
• Field theory approaches
• Multi-Level-Perspective
• Governance approaches
• Network analysis

KEYWORDS: sector coupling, transition, energy system, exnovation

S13: The social pillar in the transition to a sustainable society/industry

KALTENEGGER, Ingrid & KÖNIGSHOFER, Petra (JOANNEUM RESEARCH Forschungsgesellschaft - LIFE), Austria

In order to get the ‘whole picture’ of sustainability, it is important to extend current life cycle thinking approaches towards all three pillars of sustainability: (i) environmental, (ii) economic and (iii) social. Environmental and cost effects of products and production processes have been monitored over the last few years better and better and more thoroughly. The social part still lacks a certain attention, as it is much harder to define the scope and the content of such an assessment.

Life cycle thinking implies that everyone in the whole chain of a product’s life cycle, from cradle to grave, has a responsibility and a role to play, taking into account all the relevant external effects.

We would like to encourage participants and possible authors to submit their methodological work as well as case studies in all different sectors and would like to hear and discuss about the choice of indicators, what and how this is being measured, the different ways to assess social effects and the involvement of different stakeholders, be it workers, society, the local community and the value chain actors, or consumers (covering end-consumers as well as the consumers who are part of each step of the supply chain). Especially users/end consumers are more and more asking themselves questions about the social circumstances under which a product is made and are increasingly interested in the world behind the product they buy.

Presentations should clearly focus on the social pillar within a life cycle approach.

KEYWORDS: social sustainability, life cycle approach, social effects, stakeholder involvement

S14: The spacialities of waste

OLOFSSON, Jennie, VIDMAR, Matjaz (University of  Edinburgh), UK

This session engages with the spatial embeddedness of waste. The intimate link between space/place and waste has been acknowledged, perhaps most famously by Mary Douglas (1966) and her axiom ‘dirt is just matter out of place’.

Recent research (see for comparison Lindegaard 2001; Hetherington, 2004; Hawkins 2005; Min’an 2011; Beisel and Schneider 2012; Moore 2012) have equally provided thought-provoking accounts of the intimate link between space and waste, concerning, for example, the building of sewage systems in Copenhagen, practices of disposal and second-handedness, as well as the transformation, and spatial relocation, of an old ambulance car.

Acts of disposal and re-use are, to a large extent, about placing, though it is critical to note that “space” is not an empty container in which acts of disposal take place; rather space has the capacity to transform the very being of objects (Min’an 2011). Consequently, the disposing of things is part of ordering processes in which space and waste are mutually (re)configured. In fact, the very status of an object as a waste or a valuable is (also) conditioned on its spatial location.

STS adds to previous studies, an understanding of technocratic attempts to govern spaces in relation to waste management. As such, it also renders visible, the continuous locations, and re-locations of waste, as well as the sociotechnical infrastructures that are needed for this purpose. This session adopts a broad understanding of space and waste, and their mutual constitution; and seeks contributions on the topic of multi-disciplinary examination of spatialities of waste in relation to bodies, collectives (households, groups, organisations, etc.), infrastructure (recycling centres, landfills, incineration plants, etc.) and environments (cities, oceans, off-Earth), also including digital spaces.

KEYWORDS: waste, spatiality, mobility, location


Beisel, U and Schneider, T. 2012. Provincialising waste: The transformation of ambulance car 7/83-2 to tro-tro Dr.JESUS. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 30: 639-654

Damjanov, K. 2017. On defunct satellites and other space debris: Media waste in the orbital commons. Science, Technology & Human Values, 42(1): 166-185.

Douglas, M. 1966. Purity and danger: An analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo. London and New York: Routledge and Keegan Paul.

Hawkins, G. 2006. The ethics of waste: How we relate to rubbish. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

Hetherington, K. 2004. Secondhandness: Consumption, disposal and absent presence. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 22: 157-173.

Lindegaard, H. 2001. The debate on the sewerage system in Copenhagen from the 1840s to the 1930s. Ambio, 30(4/5): 323-326.

Min’an, W. 2011. On rubbish. Theory, Culture & Society, 28(7/8): 340-353.

Moore, S. 2012. Garbage matters: Concepts in new geographies of waste. Progress in Human Geography, 36(6): 780-799.



S15: Aviation and shipping. Blind spots within the debate over sustainable mobilities

SUHARI, Mirko (Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen), NEUKIRCH, Mario (University of Stuttgart), Germany

The session aims to shed light on the potentials, limits, and challenges of greening aviation and shipping as being vastly unexplored fields in the debate of sustainable mobilities. Whereas the electrification of car traffic, urban public transport infrastructures, or bicycle cultures are regularly addressed as key topics, the transport of goods and people in the air and at sea tend to fall short of comprehensive analysis. However, new initiatives, particularly in the maritime sector, searching for alternative fuels and new driveline technologies indicate increased attention of economic actors towards lowering their carbon footprints. In this context, the growing number of flights, cruise vessels, ocean cargo, and the associated harbour and airport infrastructures are relevant fields of analysis.
Considering the aspect of sustainability, aviation and shipping not only have in common that they receive little attention in public, policy, and STS discourses. As both sectors are growing year by year, their development (whether incrementally greening or not) will have a bigger effect on several agendas such as climate policy as well as regional effects on nature, environment and health. Beyond this, there are strong differences between both sectors: In contrast to shipping, in the aviation sector “green technologies” seem far out of sight. Apart from cruise shipping, the ocean traffic is dominated by the transport of goods. Compared to that, for aviation, the mobility of people is much more relevant. The availability of low-cost flights even became an institution in western societies. Thus, we don’t primarily aim for direct comparisons between both technologies, but rather discuss them as neglected issues in the discourse of sustainable mobilities.
For this purpose, the proposed session will deal with economic, political, cultural, social and technical aspects. Bearing in mind the international dimension of mobility leads to questions concerned with global inequalities and interdependencies. Bringing into view the different sectorial practices, institutions, and imaginaries may enhance our understanding of sustainability transitions in a globalized world. We also encourage papers that discuss the role of consumer practices, resource intensive lifestyles, and environmental awareness. In how far the reference to cultural aspects is giving sufficient explanations for the mobility’s tendency of “unlimited growth”? Do, for example, carbon offsetting practices to compensate flight emissions and new eco-friendly travelling initiatives contribute to more sustainable ways of organizing leisure and holiday? Or do these ideas just bring about contradictory and unintended effects, e.g. stabilizing and legitimizing unsustainable mobility regimes? Finally, we are strongly interested in theoretical perspectives: How do path-dependencies just as organizational and institutional lock-ins perpetuate established routines and impede change? What kind of governance arrangements and regulative frameworks may support technical breakthroughs and social innovations, and what are the conditions of more incremental change? Are there emerging niche-and-regime-dynamics or conflict fields like they are known from the energy sector?

KEYWORDS: mobilities, sustainability transitions, green shipping, innovation studies


S16: STS perspectives on China’s low-carbon energy and mobility systems

KORSNES, Marius (Norwegian University of Science and Technology), Norway, TYFIELD, David (Lancaster University), United Kingdom

The vast amount of low carbon energy and mobility initiatives coming from China continues to fascinate and perplex observers across the world. In fields as different as new renewable energy technology, electric vehicles, smart cities or carbon markets China is forging ahead. To name one example, cars in China increased more than seven times between 2002 and 2015 to 162 million, the second largest pool of cars in the world after the US (OICA 2017). The massive increase of cars makes China a compelling test-case for challenges of decarbonizing urban mobility, highly relevant to both local air-quality and health challenges as well as energy use and climate change (Tyfield and Zuev 2017). At the same time, few countries have done more than China to push towards an electric future for the car industry, as China is currently the largest market for electric vehicles and a ban on petrol and diesel cars will be implemented in the ‘near future’. Decarbonizing the car-based urban mobility in China is not merely pressing, but also a problem with deep roots in systemic and cultural arrangements that benefit from STS-approaches that are interdisciplinary, constructivist and that communicate compelling stories.

Along with the overwhelming number of initiatives happening in China controversies, diverging interests and surprising courses of action occur that are particularly useful to study from bottom-up, symmetrical STS-perspectives. One asset of STS research is the starting point of not taking existing categories for granted and thus avoiding Eurocentric frameworks for understanding China. Instead, this session invites perspectives that incorporate interactive learning and circulation of knowledge, experiences and expectations showing complex transactions and negotiations of power, pride and culture that transcend technologies. This session is intentionally broad in scope and has as a primary aim to gather different perspectives rooted within or affiliated with STS that study China’s energy and mobility systems. The session invites papers on topics with a focus on the transition to a sustainable energy and mobility systems. Some example are:

  • central-local governance issues,
  • design and planning strategies,
  • climate policy strategies,
  • energy policy strategies,
  • governance and the role of the future
  • innovation strategies,
  • inequality issues,
  • participation, and
  • the role of users in China’s low carbon energy and mobility systems.

KEYWORDS: China, low-carbon transition, mobility systems, renewable energy, smart systems

OICA 2017, "Vehicles-in-use 2015", URL:
Tyfield, D and Zuev, D (2017). ‘Stasis, dynamism and emergence of the e-mobility system in China: A power relational perspective’, Technological Forecasting and Social Change,


S17: The role of users in energy transitions: What do we know, what should we know?

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

Users of technologies certainly play a role in the transformation of the energy system. Moving from fossil fuels to renewables – to highlight only one aspect of this transformation – will affect users in a variety of ways. For many years, STS Research has been investigating the interrelation between users and technology. This research has shown that users can play very different roles, ranging from passive consumers to highly active innovators; but in any case, users do matter. In a recent article, Schot et al. (2016) have pointed out that the role of users in the context of far-reaching socio-technical transitions should be critically reflected.

Therefore, we will ask in this session which roles and responsibilities users have in different phases and areas of the ongoing energy transition.

Important questions are as follows:

• What do current empirical studies tell us?
• How can the role of users be described theoretically from the point of view of systemic changes?
• In which way are user-driven social innovations of importance?
• Which new research questions should be addressed?
• And finally: How can findings from STS-oriented user research be translated into other areas, such as technology development or politics?

KEYWORDS: energy transition, users, social innovation, STS research


S18: Is the Circular Economy able to transform the built environment in cities?

FOSTER, Gillian & STAGL, Sigrid (Vienna University of Economics and Business), Austria

This session focuses on new research that explores Circular Economy concepts that transform the urban built environment to be more sustainable, inclusive, and future-ready. Circular Economy concepts are well suited to the building and construction sector in cities. For example, refurbishing and adaptively reusing underutilized or abandoned buildings can revitalize neighborhoods whilst achieving environmental benefits. New business models promote building materials sourced from biomass or recovered construction wastes in order to replace fossil-fuel-intensive building materials. In addition, cultural heritage buildings are modified to reflect the new needs of communities whilst increasing public access to icons of unique local cultures. Nevertheless, today these examples are primarily niche interventions. The research challenges, both theoretical and practical, are how to apply and scale-up circular economy models for the urban landscape. With an STS perspective on the issue, we look beyond the barriers and drivers of certain technological solutions to a broader societal concept. We ask the overarching question ``Is the Circular Economy able to transform the built environment in cities?”

KEYWORDS: circular economy, urban sustainability, building and construction, adaptive reuse, cultural heritage