Message posted on 01/02/2023

Panel "Sector coupling in energy transition as sociotechnical processes" /Nordic STS, Oslo, 7-9 June

Dear Colleagues,

I am happy to invite you to submit an abstract to the panel “Sector coupling in energy transition as sociotechnical processes” at the 6th Nordic STS conference, Oslo, June 7-9, 2023. The deadline for abstract submission is March 1. Abstracts should be sent via the conference webpage. Please find the description of the panel here below and let me know if you have questions.

Kind regards, Silvia Bruzzone

Silvia Bruzzone Senior Lecturer and Researcher Department of Organization and Management School of Business, Society and Engineering Mälardalen University

Research group: NOMP-New Organization & Management Practices


Sector coupling in energy transition as sociotechnical processes

Energy transition is on the top of the political agenda in order to meet the climate objectives and is a crucial geopolitical issue to secure energy capacity. In this framework, electrification based on renewable energies is considered a key strategy towards a fossil free society. Nonetheless, in order to secure the fluctuations of renewable energies the integration and interoperability of adaptable infrastructures, combining energy production, storage and consumption, is required in order to achieve cost-effective efficiency, flexibility and reduce the impacts on the environment (European Parliament, 2018). Even though there is not a consensus on what sector coupling (SC) is (Ramsebner et al., 2020), one can refer to a “process of coordinating the operation and planning of energy systems across multiple pathways and/or geographical scales to deliver reliable, cost-effective energy services with minimal im­pact on the environment” (O’Malley and Kroposki 2017, p. 10). In the last ten years a rich corpus of literature has been produced on the issue of SC, which has been mainly focused on data availability, sharing and processing and in terms technical-economic benefits to achieve cost-efficiency (Ramsebner et al. 2020). However, converging infrastructures means, first of all, to introduce a higher level of complexity and uncertainties connected to the governance of such integrated systems characterized by multiple actors (included prosumers), decision-makings levels (and policy frameworks) and working practices at organizational boundaries. For example, STS literature shows that the integration of systems takes shape, first of all, by energy models which combine different sectors – energy, transports, storage – and from which scenarios are developed as basis for decision-making. The connection between modelling and decisions/planning or, in other words, between science and politics, is shown as crucial to understand future energy configurations. (Aykut, 2019; Silvast, et al., 2020). Moreover, the passage from actual centralized energy supply to decentralized ones is also meant to produce uncertainties as well as the entrance of individual actual actors (prosumers) as well as cooperative and new business opportunities (new business models) is likely to change the constellation of actors and poses questions on governance dynamics (Büscher and Scheer, 2020). In this process while politics is expected to steer sector coupling, it is still unclear how the interaction between multiple actors will be done (Büscher and Scheer, 2020) and how transparency and accountability will be ensured. Finally, sectors coupling will not happen in a vaccum but in inter-connection with already established path dependency processes, routines, professional competences, established power relations and decision-making process which may also hinder change (Shove and Spurling, 2013; Rinkinen et al., 2019). Thus, the flexibility and capacity of systems to converge and be integrated cannot be taken for granted but need to be analyzed and worked upon in each specific context. These crucial dimensions – tightly connected to the “technical” feasibility of systems integration - are still underexplored (Silvast et al., 2021). This requires a sociotechnical approach whereby the “technical” dimension cannot be studied independently from social conditions, political opportunities and ethical choices connected to it (Sovacool, 2020; Shove and Trentmann, 2018). We welcome contributions that may shed light on 1) how sector coupling takes shape in specific contexts from a sociotechnical perspective; 2) the challenges connected to sector coupling which may hinder stakeholders’ capacity to act and to anticipate; 3) political and ethical issues emerging from sector coupling.

References Aykut, S. C. (2019) “Reassembling Energy Policy: Models, Forecasts, and Policy Change in Germany and France”, Science & Technology Studies, 32(4), pp. 13–35. doi: 10.23987/sts.65324 Büscher, C., Scheer, D. and Nabitz, L. (2020) Future converging infrastructures, TATuP Zeitschrift für Technikfolgenabschätzung in Theorie und Praxis · July 2020 European Parliament (2018) Sector coupling: how can it be enhanced in the EU to foster grid stability and decarbonise? O’Malley, Mark; Kroposki, Benjamin (2017): Unlocking flexibility. Energy systems integration. In: IEEE Power and Energy Magazine 15 (1), pp. 10–14. Ramsebner, J, Haas, R, Ajanovic, A, Wietschel, M. The sector coupling concept: A critical review. WIREs Energy Environ. 2021; 10:e396. Rinkinen J. Shove E. and Torriti J. (2019) Energy Fables Challenging Ideas in the Energy Sector, Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge. Shove, E. and Spurling, N. (2013) Sustainable Practices Social Theory and Climate Change, Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge. Shove E. and Trentmann F. (2018) Infrastructures in Practice: The Dynamics of Demand in Networked Societies, Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge. Silvast, A., Laes, E., Abram, S., Bombaerts, G., 2020. What do energy modellers know? An ethnography of epistemic values and knowledge models. Energy Research and Social Science 66, 101495. erss.2020.101495 Silvast, A., Abram, S. and Copeland, C. (2021) Energy systems integration as research practice, Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, DOI: 10.1080/09537325.2021.1974376 Sovacool, B. K., D. J. Hess, S. Amir, F. W. Geels, R. Hirsh, L. R. Medina, C. Miller, et al. 2020. “Sociotechnical Agendas: Reviewing Future Directions for Energy and Climate Research.” Energy Research & Social Science 70: 101617.

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