Emerging Energy Geographies:

PGR Research

RGS-IBG Mid-Term Conference

Monday 19th April

13.00 - 15.00 (GMT)



Session chairs:
Joe Lawley
Alice Garvey
Kate Scott

13.00 GMT 

Intro & Icebreaker

13.10 GMT

Research Presentations: Part 1

Tracing Connections of ‘Power’ Infrastructures: A Methodology for Studying Uneven Expansions of Bioenergy Production

Hiromi Inagaki, National University of Singapore

This paper examines a methodological tool of tracing ‘power’ infrastructures that the author has employed for her doctoral research on the uneven expansion process of sugarcane-based electricity generation and circulation in Northeast Thailand. The paper first discusses key notions of infrastructure drawing on Marxist geographical thought on circulations and material politics of infrastructure conceptualised in science and technology studies (STS). The paper then illustrates 1) material and discursive practices on infrastructures that were traced in the study; 2) new or altered circulations of capital, electric and political ‘powers’; and 3) their (un)intended effects on material flows that have shaped the recent expansion of sugar production and electricity generation in particular areas. The paper shows that the attention especially to ‘extensible’ power grids would reveal how financially ambitious electricity authorities and geographically confined sugar producers may achieve favorable positions in 'power' circulation. The paper argues that the tracing of ‘power’ infrastructure as a methodology would allow for investigating the spatial and temporal connections of varied visions and materialities.

Minerals for Just Energy Transition: Unearthing a new conundrum

Nidhi Srivastava, Jawaharlal Nehru University

As several countries embark upon a journey to low carbon pathways, the actual and sustained energy transition is dependent on availability and accessibility of raw materials needed for renewable energy and energy efficient technologies. It is estimated that energy transition will be extremely mineral intensive since clean energy technologies require more materials than fossils (The World Bank, 2020). In the last few years, scholars have tried to engage with the theory of justice in energy and transition. McCauley et al have defined energy justice in terms of distributional, procedural and recognition justice (2013). The concept has been expanded to include restorative justice to correct the mistakes of energy sector (Heffron & McCauley, 2017). The discourse on just energy transition has revolved around minimising negative impacts on people dependent on fossils or ensuring greater employment opportunities in renewables or low carbon sectors (IISD, 2018)(Tsani, 2020), but not on the impact of critical mineral extraction needed for such transition. Minerals and Energy have been treated as two distinct sectors, in policy as well as academia, neglecting their interdependence.

Justice in energy transition has been viewed in a very localised context, one of ensuring justice for people getting affected by decarbonisation in terms of losing jobs due to a shift from fossil fuel. While intergenerational aspect is integrated, inter jurisdictional aspect is not discussed, especially when energy transition in one jurisdiction is completely dependent on raw material from another jurisdiction. The proposed presentation argues for extending the domain of energy justice to go beyond a narrow interpretation of decarbonisation, and extend to securing raw material for energy transition.

Imaginations of the local in the wind energy transition: a spatial approach to wind deployment imaginaries in France

Zoe Chateau, University of Exeter

In wind deployment policies, projects, debates as well as contestations, the 'local' has become a recurring theme, seemingly crystallizing conflicts, consensual discourses, as well as possibilities for a fairer and more acceptable energy transition. In that respect, it is a gateway into how different groups imagine the wind energy transition and relate to its socio-spatial dimensions. My PhD projects analyses how the local is discursively constructed by actors engaged in the production, negotiation and contestation of wind energy deployment in France at two scales of action: in national wind energy discourses and debates, and in local disputes around specific wind projects. It develops a spatial approach to the concept of sociotechnical imaginaries to analyse interrelations between images of the local and imaginaries of wind energy deployment at different scales. Combining national discourse analysis to two wind project case-studies, it investigates whether and how different constructions of the local are points of contention between diverging sociotechnical imaginaries. By this, it hopes to contribute to understandings of how energy transitions are produced as collective and contested socio-spatial projects, and of the ways specific representations of space, place, scale and publics are used to frame and legitimate sociotechnical imaginaries.




Just-a-Minute Presentations

The impact of Covid-19 on Greater Manchester’s low-carbon ambitions

Ami Crowther, University of Manchester

Towns, cities and city regions across the UK have declared ambitions to become net zero ahead of the national government’s target of 2050. A range of local strategies have been developed to support these ambitions, with each reflecting the context, resources and motivations of the area in which they are situated. Greater Manchester intends to become net zero by 2038; a whole systems approach has been proposed to support this, which outlines actions relating to energy generation, transport, and housing. The timeline of achieving net zero by 2038 in Greater Manchester, and the whole systems approach developed, involves the implementation of a range of initiates and strategies. A number of these were planned to be launched in 2020 but priorities shifted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. To support the ‘recovery’ from Covid-19, narratives of a ‘green recovery’ and ‘building back better’ have emerged at both the national and sub-national scale. Drawing upon initial reflections of interviews conducted with a range of actors associated with Greater Manchester’s low-carbon transition– including combined authority officials, local government policy makers, politicians, academics and activists – this presentation will outline their views on how Covid-19 has impacted the city region’s low-carbon ambitions.

Diffusion of Innovation in the Energy Landscape: The Role of Supply and Demand Side Network Effects for Integrated Energy Management Systems

Gloria Serra Coch, HERUS lab, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

The uptake of innovative and new technologies is key for the success of the energy transition in Switzerland and beyond. Previous research has shown that both, access to reliable information and peer-effects, can have a significant effect on the uptake of new technologies by consumers. In this project we aim at better understanding information diffusion patterns and peer-effects on the supply and the demand side in all three linguistic areas in Switzerland with different region-specific contextual factors. We do this by looking at information exchange networks between suppliers of integrated energy management systems linking photovoltaics and electro-mobility, as well as the actor-networks and information sources influencing investment decisions of individuals, i.e. home- and carowners. By taking a distinct network view, we identify who are central information carriers, which channels of information exchange are of special importance for innovation diffusion in Switzerland, and where are key leverage points that could be targeted to increase the uptake of innovative technological solutions by consumers.

A Climate of Change or Conserving the Status Quo? The Energy Transition and Rural Landscape Conservation in UK National Landscapes: An Introduction

Lucy Maddox, University of Nottingham

How do sustainable energy futures and rural landscape conservation interact? Climate Change, described as humanity’s greatest contemporary threat, requires fundamental changes to the way we live our lives socially, politically and through technological development. This presents particular challenges for the management of rural landscapes such as the UK National Landscapes, including the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These are large areas designated as ‘special places’ and subject to high levels of landscape conservation and protection; whilst also being home to a hybrid of resident communities, businesses and industry; and iconic highly valued tourist destinations attracting millions of visitors per year. Conceptualisation of place as an ‘inherent energy landscape’ [whereby energy landscapes have been defined by Stremke, S. and Pasqualletti, M in 2008] will enable the inhabited and modified cultural landscape, whose histories and current conditions reflect technologies, policies and social values of energy generation and systems over time to be explored. It is posited that by attending to the socio-historical narratives of the UK National Landscapes and acknowledging these as ‘inherent energy landscapes’, that the values and drivers that underpin rural landscape conservation and future energy landscape change can be understood in parallel.

There's only one “d” in Smart Grid

Lucas Barning, TU Wien

The discourse on the promises of Smart Grid development is narrated by four "d's": Digitisation, decarbonisation, decentralisation and democratisation. While the first "d" is an inevitable prerequisite for Smart Grid systems, I argue that the other three "d's" are at best optional. Decarbonisation depends on the technologies of choice (ranging from generation to storage and ICT technology), decentralisation might hold true for the physical layout but not necessarily for institutional structures or regulation, and democratisation seems in most instance to be misunderstood for market liberalisation and individualisation. Particularly the last "d" appears flawed as little elements of classical definitions of democracy, such as Robert A. Dahl’s process-oriented principles of effective participation, freedom of choice, enlightened understanding, citizen control over the agenda and inclusiveness, seem to be inscribed in Smart Grids material and immaterial structures. At the example of the Indian Smart Grid Mission (NSGM), I argue that instead of decentralisation and democratisation the transformation of the Indian energy system comprises a tendency towards centralisation of authority and the roll back of democratic federal institutions and regulations. I therefore suggest to take Smart Grid literally and characterise it with one "d".

The challenges of linking personal mobility and domestic energy

Alexandra-Elena Vitel, University of Leeds

Traditionally, transport and energy are seen as two separate fields of activity with a low correlation. However, the citizens of cities do not normally separate their lives between the two. Rather, both domains mutually shape human lives and form what we commonly call lifestyle. As technological innovation in mobility, especially electromobility, tries to unite the two areas more and more, it becomes increasingly clear that the interaction between sectors, in this case energy, transport and heat, highlights how net zero is in fact a ‘system of systems problem’. This brings to light an important ascertainment. In order to effectively establish the smart energy system of the future, it is necessary to unite these different sectors. The operationalization of this conceptual understanding, however, remains challenging. At the structural level, the energy system requires a functional strategy to stabilize a system that will hinge on fluctuating renewable energy sources. While the involvement of several users in a single smart grid depends on this, the realistic achievement of efficiency goals, which lead to lifestyles that sustain sufficient energy consumption, are highly dependent on the end user's behaviour. This understanding begs for attention in a virtuous circle - circularly from beginning to end.

Negotiating new frontiers in sustainable energy production: hydropower development in recently deglaciated Swiss mountain regions

Chloe Baruffa, University of Geneva

As glacial lakes are rapidly forming in the Alps as a result of human induced climate change and glacier retreat, so are plans to exploit their potential for hydropower generation and storage. In the last ten years, policy plans and narratives have shifted from considering glacial lakes as a source of risk to an opportunity for renewable energy production. While the formation of these lakes creates opportunities to expand the limit of hydropower production on new territories, it also raises a number of unprecedented questions related to the legal status of glaciers and their waters, the long term impacts of glacier retreat on hydropower production, and the compromises that societies are willing to accept with respect to environmental regulations, landscape preservation, and renewable energy transitions in the context of climate change. Building on discursive approaches to policy change, the two main objectives of my PhD thesis are to trace the evolution of plans to build reservoirs on Swiss glacial lakes from the early 1990s to today and to analyze the specific development of the Trift dam project, the country’s first hydropower project on a recently melted glacier.

A Town Called Eco: Low-carbon transport practices in an English eco-town

Jane May Morrison, University of Exeter

In 2008, the UK government announced plans to build new ‘eco-towns’ – low-carbon developments to pioneer ways of solving the climate crisis. But today, after massive policy changes and economic recession, are UK eco-developments actually lower-carbon? And if not, why? And what other policies, infrastructure, economic changes or campaigns might help them hit Net-Zero carbon targets in future? My case study research uses survey, document, and interview data to investigate an English ‘eco-town’. It takes a practice theoretical perspective, and looks at the practices of stakeholders and residents alike. Multiple aspects of decarbonization are examined, but this one-minute presentation will focus on transport. Does the evidence show this eco-town having below-average transport emissions? No, not yet. Survey results show a negatively significant association between the length of time a resident has lived there, and public-transport-taking, r(206) = -.19, p =.005. Survey results also show 61% of residents self-report taking transport less often. This presentation will briefly outline three ways to help UK eco-developments (+ other developments!) to hit CO2 targets: increased frequency of public transport, spatial placement and service availability in new developments, and internal cycle/pedestrian route connectivity.

SDG 7 and the city: The (re-)making of urban and infrastructural heterogeneity through access initiatives in Greater Maputo

Mathias Koepke, Utrecht University

Energy access for all’ initiatives in the global South have predominantly focused on connecting marginalized, rural populations through a combination of centralized grids and alternative socio-technical solutions. Across energy geography and development studies, attention to the urban ramifications of such initiatives in largely missing so far. Yet, affordability and reliability of centralized grids in cities are greatly affected by energy access policies, innately linking spaces often investigated separately. In this presentation, I mobilize recent debates on urban and infrastructural heterogeneity as a lens to investigate the complex and partially adverse outcomes of SDG 7-guided policies across diverse urban agglomerations. Empirically, I focus on Greater Maputo, Mozambique. Here, massive connection campaigns threaten the utility’s commercial viability, trigger tariff increases and strain distribution infrastructures. In turn, end-user aspects for electricity access such as affordability and reliability are growing challenges. An analysis of diverse case study neighborhoods reveals the diverse and complex outcomes across Greater Maputo which partially counteract policy goals and complicate the struggle for integrated sustainable urban development. With factual grid accessibility threatened, hybrid and heterogeneous electricity constellations become even more important. Investigating these constellations highlights questionable, place-based outcomes in terms of social, environmental and economic performance.

TIME to Change: Rethinking Sustainable Energy Access

Ben Robinson, University of Nottingham

Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 7, sustainable energy for all, by 2030 represents a considerable challenge. Currently, 40% of the global population do not have sustainable energy access, and instead rely on burning biomass to satisfy their energy needs. Despite a long history of Improved Cookstove (ICS) initiatives across the globe, many interventions fail at persuading end-users to sustainably use ICS past the adoption phase. Resulting in many ICS falling out of use once project partners depart. These failures are often due to the energy-technology for poverty-alleviation discourse being shaped by ever more complex technologies rather than social methodologies such as understanding end-user priorities and complex contextual barriers to sustained use. In this paper, we present a novel qualitative implementation model, the Technology Implementation Model for Energy (TIME), for practitioners and policymakers that focuses on three core areas; to rethink impact, to understand differences in practitioner perception and end-user reality, and to champion a co-produced approach with all energy key stakeholders. TIME is the first energy implementation model to blend Social Enterprise, Appropriate Technology, Water, Hygiene and Sanitation behavioural change models and International Development planning tools whilst advocating a value driven approach centred around co-production, ownership, use of resources and equality.

Migration, Land Policy and Electricity Access in Rwanda

Muez Ali, UCL

Land is scarce in Rwanda, a small, mountainous country with a high population density and a historic reliance on agriculture for food security. The genocide in 1994 made matters worse. The destruction of homes and a mass exodus left a lot of Rwandans and returnees homeless. In December 1996, the Ministry of Public Works in Rwanda issued instructions to restructure unplanned urban areas and regroup the rural population. The lack of a coherent policy to address issues of human settlements increased unplanned residential areas in rural and urban areas. In 2004, the government drafted and enacted the National Human Settlement Policy. In urban areas, the policy aimed to organise urban sprawl. In rural areas, the government designed a resettlement (villagisation) programme, where residents are grouped into new settlement centres, called "Imidugudu", where the government hoped to provide agricultural land, access to markets and public services. One of the public services is electricity. This research uses the Rwanda MTF household energy consumption survey to investigate the effect of the resettlement policy on the likelihood of households having access to electricity, specifically the effect of living in an Imidugudu on the likelihood of a household having a connection to the national grid.

Energy Geography in Argentina and South America

Alejandra Ise, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas

At the beginning of the 21st century, South American countries diversify their energy supply, dominated by hydrocarbons and hydroelectricity. They valorize unconventional resources, renewable and non-renewable. Goals behind this are to provide new and better services, eradicate poverty, gain autonomy and security, and mitigate emissions of greenhouse gases. In Argentina, harnessing of photovoltaic and wind energy expands through small-scale distributed installations and large centralized plants. As of 2010, unconventional hydrocarbons, with gas as protagonist, are exploited. With the shifting of production and resource access boundaries, on a national and continental level, energy maps are redrawn. The trend towards regional energy specialization is highlighted. The aim of this proposal is to present a trajectory of transdisciplinary research on energy issues, articulating results of individual –doctoral and postdoctoral- and collective work, developed in a framework of interinstitutional, international cooperation. In the transition towards a more inclusive and less polluting model, the evolution of socio-technical systems modifies the Argentine and South American energy geography, incorporating new productive territories. At the same time, possibilities of co-constructing projects, extending services and promoting regional integration emerge.

Natural Gas Extraction and Conflict in Upper Amazonia: Discourses and Power in Peru’s Camisea

Ana Watson, University of Calgary

Natural gas extraction in Amazonia is deeply connected to questions of colonial power and territory. While many studies have addressed extraction conflicts, few have examined the socio-political foundations of discourses and power behind the negotiations and acceptance of extractivism in indigenous communities. Biological conservation, climate change mitigation and development approaches have shed light on indigenous livelihoods and the ecological importance of the Amazon, but tend to overlook their mutual constitutions with strategies of power and knowledge production during extraction negotiations. Drawing on political ecology, my study helps to uncover those dynamics by examining the roles of power and knowledge in defining environmental impacts and in influencing social acceptability of hydrocarbon operations across cultural worldviews and a multi-scalar geography. My research focus on the study case of Peru’s Camisea natural gas project. Some praise it as a national example of sustainable and clean energy by defining its impacts to “acceptable” levels. This research examines such definitions of “acceptable” as an active process in which power and knowledge production plays important (but usually hidden) roles in meaning-making and behavior. This research generates theoretical contributions for the political and cultural understanding of energy extraction negotiations and conflicts for indigenous communities that co-lived with and are affected by hydrocarbon extractivism.


Research Presentations: Part 2

Energy geography in East Africa: spatial dimensions of renewable energy transitions and sociotechnical change

Sylvere Hategekimana, Chalmers University of Technology, Department of Technology Management and Economics

East African countries have pledged to achieve sustainable energy for all by 2030. The achievement of this goal implies changes in how societies organize electricity supply and use. However, access to modern energy services remains limited and fragmented. Many contextual challenges hinder access to modern energy to become a driver for socio-economic development. There are spatial differences in the organization of renewable energy and fossil fuels systems that call for a focus on geographical aspects of energy transitions. This study aims to contribute to the understanding of the role of spatial dimensions of the energy transition for rural transformation processes in East Africa. Gavin Bridge has proposed a comprehensive framework on energy transition geographies which includes six elements: location, landscape, territoriality, scaling, spatial differentiation, and spatial embeddedness and path-dependencies. The application of this framework in the Global North has been useful in analyzing the spatial patterns of energy transitions. However, its relevance to modern energy mixes for East Africa remains to be seen. By operationalizing this framework through a theoretical review in the East African context, we analyse evidence in socio-spatial relations, such as trends in the development of resources, flows of finance and knowledge, territorialities, actor networks and power dynamics as well as their effects on rural transformation in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. Results show that the location dynamics of electricity are characterized by the scramble for available energy resources. This has contributed to the considerable increase in electricity generation, with Kenya emerging at the forefront. The energy landscape in East Africa has been characterized by a constellation of expanding material infrastructures ranging from hydropower and geothermal infrastructures targeting the modernization agenda. Transnational flows of knowledge and resources spurred by the World Bank and the implementation of the Feed-In-Tariffs policies have caused considerable changes in the electricity landscape, especially in Uganda. The diversification of actors has made possible the emergence of three territories respectively controlled by the state, private sector and communities. These territories reflect rural-urban inequalities in term of access to electrification. This spatial differentiation has made electricity a contested phenomenon in rural areas with a minor contribution to socio-economic transformation. The review identifies data and knowledge gaps indicating the need to conduct empirical studies to fully materialize each dimension of the framework. This would permit the identification of centre-periphery dynamics of ongoing and potential transformation processes in Rwanda.

Electricity infrastructures, developmental aspirations and just transitions in Kenya

Majd Jayyousi, University of Manchester

Works on sustainable transitions are increasingly recognising the importance of balancing climate concerns with socio-economic considerations. Just transitions approaches therefore emerged to critically assess pathways to a low carbon future that ensure social and economic justice. With its ambitions to achieve universal electrification in 2022, Kenya’s just transition requires closing the electricity access gap, improving socio-economic wellbeing, and meeting climate change targets. Within that context, this paper assesses energy transitions in Kenya considering its developmental aspirations. To achieve that, the paper looks at energy policies and strategies in Kenya and examines how they shape infrastructural transformations accompanying sustainability transitions. It analyses how Kenya’s commitment to the modernisation and infrastructure for development policies impacts electrification in the country and seeks to understand its implications on just energy futures.

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