Panel 17

Electricity Futures: materialising promises and disappointments

Organizers: Costanza Concetti (1); Leonard Schliesser (2)

1: Durham University, United Kingdom; 2: Durham University, United Kingdom

Topics: Ecological transitions and climate justice; Technoscientific promises, imaginaries and expectations; Methodological challenges in a more-than-human world; Everyday life and design of the mundane; Innovation imaginaries, practices and policies

Keywords: (smart) grid, power, futures, sociotechnical imaginaries, more-than-human agency, material politics

In light of the looming perils of climate change and the stark warnings from the IPCC, the need for ‘sustainability’ has become generally accepted. The heterogeneity of the literature on sustainable transitions (T2S) towards carbon-neutral/low-carbon futures however exemplifies the diversity of visions for and pathways to such futures. Many of these visions hold conflicting technoscientific promises, imaginaries and expectations that are seldomly clearly articulated in the literature or in public debates.

One area of this debate centres around the decarbonisation of electricity generation. The replacement of predictable yet polluting centralised fossil power plants with volatile renewable generation and with decentralised prosumption practices challenges existing power systems. Activists and scholars calling for the proliferation of such practices discuss them as political alternatives to centralised and unjust previous/current energy systems. Similarly, industry representatives, policymakers and scholars alike evoke digital technologies and (big) data to discuss the ‘smart’ grid as a more efficient solution to secure the flow of electricity. Both these framings tend to oversimplify the dynamic tensions and the non-linearity of these ‘power’ infrastructures, their politics, and their change, as well as ignoring altogether the agency and affordance of their non-human elements.

We invite papers interested in sociotechnical transitions involving electricity generation, transmission, and distribution and investigating the tensions between the promises, imaginaries, and expectations of ‘smart’, decentralisation, and prosumption and the intricacies of their more-than-human materialisations. We ask: How do we study electricity futures both imagined and in their materialisations without flattening their complexity? We invite papers discussing, among others:

  • empirical findings on smart grids pilot projects, decentralisation schemes such as collective self-consumption or renewable energy communities, and the implementation of microgrids (off-grid or integrated).
  • Theoretical and methodological reflections on how to study more-than-human transitions in-becoming and how to account for the power and politics of emerging electricity futures.