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


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.


Aamodt, Andreas. 2012. Målkonflikter mellom energisparing og fjernvarme - problembeskrivelse og løsningsforslag (et samarbeid mellom Norsk Eiendom, EBA, Bellona, Grønn byggallianse og Norsk teknologi). Oslo: ADAPT Consulting.

Aune, Margrethe, Åsne Lund Godbolt, Knut H Sørensen, Marianne Ryghaug, Henrik Karlstrøm, and Robert Næss. 2016. "Concerned consumption. Global warming changing household domestication of energy." Energy Policy 98:290-297.

Barad, Karen. 2007. Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham: Duke University Press.

Bernard, Harvey Russell. 2011. Research methods in anthropology: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Rowman Altamira.

Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Susan Leigh Star. 2000. Sorting things out: Classification and its consequences. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.

Briggs, Chad M. 2006. "Science, local knowledge and exclusionary practices: Lessons from the Alta Dam case." Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift-Norwegian Journal of Geography 60 (2): 149-160.

Callon, Michel. 1998. The laws of the markets. Vol. 6 Oxford: Blackwell.

Cooper, Adam C.G. 2017. “Building physics into the social: Enhancing the policy impact of energy studies and energy social science research.“ Energy Research & Social Science 26: 80-86.

Glaser, Barney G., and Anselm L. Strauss. 1967. The discovery of grounded theory: strategies for qualitative research. Chicago, IL, USA: Aldine.

Godbolt, Åsne Lund. 2015. "The ethos of energy efficiency: Framing consumer considerations in Norway." Energy Research & Social Science 8:24-31.

Goulden, Shula, Evyatar Erell, Yaakov Garb, and David Pearlmutter. 2015. “Green building standards as socio-technical actors in municipal environmental policy.“ Building Research & Information 45 (4): 414-425.

Heidegger, Martin, and William Lovitt. 1977. The question concerning technology, and other essays. New York: Harper & Row.

Hojem, Thea SM, Knut H Sørensen, and Vivian A Lagesen. 2014. "Designing a ‘green’building: expanding ambitions through social learning." Building Research & Information 42 (5):591-601.

Johansen, Jens Petter, and Jens Røyrvik. 2014. "Organizing Synergies in Integrated Energy Systems." Energy Procedia 58:24-29.

Johansen, Jens Petter Kirkhus. 2012. “Konstruksjonen av et kollektivt energisystem: En kvalitativ casestudie av energisamarbeidet mellom bedriftene i Kviamarka industriklynge.“ Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Larsen, Tord. 2009. “Entifisering: tingdannelsens former i vår tid.” In Den globale samtalen: om dialogens muligheter, edited by Tord Larsen. Oslo: Scandinavian Academic Press.

Latour, Bruno. 1983. "Give me a laboratory and I will raise the world." In Science observed, edited by K. Knorr-Cetina and Mulkay M., 141-170. London: Sage Publications.

Latour, Bruno. 1987. Science in action: how to follow scientists and engineers through society. Milton Keynes, UK: Open University Press.

Latour, Bruno. 2004. Politics of nature: how to bring the sciences into democracy. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press.

Latour, Bruno. 2005. Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory, Clarendon Lectures In Management Studies. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Latour, Bruno, and Steve Woolgar. 1986. Laboratory life: the construction of scientific facts. [New ed.] Princeton, NJ, USA: Princeton University Press.

Leonardi, Paul M. 2012. “Materiality, sociomateriality, and socio-technical systems: what do these terms mean? How are they related? Do we need them?” In Materiality and organizing: Social interaction in a technological world, edited by Paul M. Leonardi, Bonnie A. Nardi, & Jannis Kallinikos, 25-48. Oxford: Oxford University Press,

Lusiani, Maria Luca Zan, Grete Swensen, and Rikke Stenbro. 2013. “Urban planning and industrial heritage–a Norwegian case study.” Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development 3 (2): 175-190.

Marx, K. 1995. Kapitalen: Kritikk av den politiske økonomien. Første bok: Kapitalens produksjonsprosess. Del 1. Oslo: Forlaget Oktober A/S.

Orlikowski, Wanda J. 2009. “The sociomateriality of organisational life: considering technology in management research.” Cambridge Journal of Economics 34 (1): 125-141.

Ryghaug, Marianne, and Knut H Sørensen. . 2009. “How energy efficiency fails in the building industry.” Energy Policy 37 (3): 984-991.

Røyrvik, Jens, Torgeir Haavik, Kari Dalen, Jens Petter Johansen, and Jørgen K Knutsen. 2016. "Political frame conditions for energy efficiency: context sensitivity, energy flexibility and the question of scale." CIB World Building Congress, Tampere, May 30 – June 3, 2016.

Røyrvik, Jens Olgard Dalseth, Torgeir K Haavik, Gudveig Gjøsund, Jens Petter Johansen, Arne Fredrik Lånke, Heidi Ødegård Berg, Inger Andresen, and Kristian Stenerud Skeie. 2015. "Evaluering av Enovas passivhusprogram."

Røyrvik, Jens. 2012. Værvinduet: en teknologisk artikulert entitet i oljeindustriens erobring av natur (The weather window: a technologically articulated entity in the petroleum indstry's conquering of nature). Vol. 2012:368. Trondheim: Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Shove, Elizabeth. 1998. "Gaps, barriers and conceptual chasms: theories of technology transfer and energy in buildings." Energy policy 26 (15):1105-1112.

Skjølsvold, Tomas Moe, and Carmel Lindkvist. 2015. “Ambivalence, designing users and user imaginaries in the european smart grid: insights from an interdisciplinary demonstration project.” Energy Research & Social Science 9: 43-50.

Solli, Jøran, and Thomas Berker. 2014. “Economic feasibility and zero emission buildings. A state-of-the-art report. ” ZEB report 19 - 2014. Trondheim: SINTEF Academic Press.

Sovacool, Benjamin K. 2014. “Energy studies need social science.” Nature 511 (7511): 529-530.

Sovacool, Benjamin K, S.E. Ryan, P.C. Stern, K. Janda, G. Rochlin, D. Spreng, M.J. Pasqualetti, H. Wilhite, and L. Lutzenhiser. 2015.“Integrating social science in Energy research.” Energy Research & Social Science 6: 95-99.

Star, Susan Leigh, and James R. Griesemer. 1989. “Institutional ecology, ‘translations’and boundary objects: amateurs and professionals in berkeley's museum of vertebrate zoology, 1907-39.” Social Studies of Science 19 (3): 387-420.

Thevenot, Laurent. 2009. “Postscript to the special issue: governing life by standards.” Social Studies of Science 39: 793-813.

Venturini, Tommaso. 2010. “Diving in magma: How to explore controversies with actor-network theory.” Public understanding of science 19 (3): 258-273.

Østerlie, T., Petter Grytten Almklov, and V. Hepsø. 2012. "Dual materiality and knowing in petroleum production." Information and Organization 22 (2):85-105.
Peer-Reviewed Articles