A question of power: the politics of kilowatt-hours

  • Torgeir Kolstø Haavik NTNU Social Research
  • Jens Røyrvik NTNU Social Research
  • Catharina Lindheim NTNU Social Research
Keywords: energy efficiency, kwh, power, politics

Abstract

This article builds on long-term, ongoing studies of energy efficiency governance, and reports from one recent case study of a multi-use area development combining local heating/cooling and district heating. We approach the subject matter with a particular interest for the heterogeneous substances and processes at play in realising an engineering project. With a particular focus on controversies, we analyse the achievements of energy efficient solutions as processes of transformation, translation and exchange.

The study involves exploration of different energy systems. However, while isolation and infinity are natural entities in the laboratories, they are rare in the real world. The real world leaks, and we intentionally allow some leakages but not others. That is the politics of energy efficiency: in the translation processes of energy streams into classification schemes, we isolate some parts of our systems but not others; we include some energy considerations but not others. This pragmatic is a virtue of necessity, since the impossible imperative of following all energy paths in infinity would require us to constantly deal with the whole world.

Power being relational, successful energy efficiency lends support from careful exploitation of processes of transformation, translation and exchange, both within and across material-technological and socio-political domains. The conclusion of our studies is twofold: First, in order to understand the phenomenon of energy efficiency one needs to understand the functioning of sociomaterial networks and analyse the sociomaterial controversies and transformation processes that takes place within them, under the imperative of the formal and often highly standardised technical system classifications. We may call this the politics of kilowatt-hours. Second, exploring new scaling philosophies and strategies require parallel, research based exploration of new energy efficiency governance principles.

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Published
2017-08-10
Section
Peer-Reviewed Articles