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From Energy Biographies to Flexis


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Presentation at LCRI Low Carbon Cymru Conference

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From Energy Biographies to Flexis

  1. 1. From Energy Biographies to Flexible Energy Systems (FLEXIS) Prof. Karen Henwood LCRI Low Carbon Cymru Conference 7th July 2016
  2. 2. Energy Biographies (ESRC/EPSRC 2011-15) • Large scale qualitative empirical study exploring how and why people use energy in everyday life • Rationale/Background ▫ current levels of energy use are unsustainable ▫ But transforming how people use energy individually and collectively is difficult ▫ Social science research on energy use needs to find new opportunities for change • Innovative study design to harness cross disciplinary insights and develop understanding; so emphasis on intensive methodological and analytical work • Identifying specific behaviours and/or practices that need to change NOT our focus • Rather new/interesting kinds of data on how energy use is patterned across individual lifecourses • Enhances understanding of embedding of everyday energy usage & its patterning within wider systems
  3. 3. Energy Biographies as a Qualitative Longitudinal Study (QLL) : why temporality and biography? • QLL approaches explore change through time and accumulate qualitative data that provides depth and detail • Explores impact of past experiences and anticipated futures in enabling & constraining people’s present routines and habits • Individual biographical accounts can shed light on broader patterns of social change
  4. 4. Case Sites Cardiff Case sites: Ely and Caerau Peterston-Super-Ely Lammas Ecovillage Niche case site Royal Free Hospital Workplace case site
  5. 5. Interview 1 Themes: community and context, daily routine, life transitions Activity 1 Participant-generated photos Interview 2 Themes: changes since interview 1, discussion of pictures generated in activity 1, follow up on emergent themes from interview 1 Activity 2 Text-prompted photos Interview 3 Themes: changes since interview 2, discussion of pictures generated in activity 2 discussion of video clips provided by researcher Energy Biographies: Structure of empirical work More information on each stage available at
  6. 6. EB’s data–enhancing reflections on everyday energy use (practices) “Right more gadgets. TV, PVR, video player, digi-box, daughter using laptop whilst watching television. Yeah just the penetration of electronics into our lives which kind of we all know but when you actually put the spotlight on and take some photographs it just brings the impact up. (Jeremy, 62, Cardiff)
  7. 7. EB’s data – practices and identities “… we do love our patio heater when it’s a sunny evening but it gets a bit cold and dark and you can sit out and they’re like probably the worst things aren’t they? But we love it well we only use it about five times a year so it’s OK.” “Cos we love being outside, we just love that you can you know go, we were sitting out there one evening … it was like midnight and you could have a drink outside still and it’s so lovely here cos it’s so quiet and everything so but you wouldn’t have been able to do it without that so or you would have been freezing. So that’s our kind of, we know it’s really bad but we’re still going to use it.” “Heating the Outdoors” (Lucy, Peterson- Super-Ely)
  8. 8. Energy Biographies – Overarching Insights • Energy often intangible and invisible in everyday life – but brought into view here through methodological innovation • Focus and attention was re-directed at issues generally not regarded as important in contemporary studies of energy demand (psychosocial investments and identities) ▫ Changes in energy use can create concerns about everyday dependences on energy and about not being able to live a worthwhile life (LAWL) ▫ LAWL means keeping alive valued identities, desires and relationships with others ▫ Identities are shaped by emotional investments in devices, everyday practices and also by entanglements with wider infrastructure • But studying the ‘emotional labour of meaning making’ still in its infancy?
  9. 9. To read end of award report: •
  10. 10. FLEXIS - Whole Energy System Transformation
  11. 11. From Energy Biographies to FLEXIS Further programme of empirical work with aims to: •Generate understanding of the complex implications of proposed FLEXIS technological developments for everyday lives of diverse communities and publics •Enable policy-shaping in ways responsive to community and societal concerns, aspirations and desires •Develop a responsible research and innovation (RRI) framework for future energy systems
  12. 12. Flexis work packages • WP1 – enhanced expert interviews with cultural probes • WP2 – tracking public responses to socio-technical change/interventions within community settings • WP3 - deliberative work with communities and stakeholders • Possible survey work ….
  13. 13. Investigating flexible energy systems change - social science work packages • Problem: unintended consequences of technical interventions to reduce energy use – e.g. smart homes • Social science research indicates people don’t ‘behave’ • So can we anticipate how people will make sense of and respond to innovation – and become responsive in turn? • What imaginaries are implicit in technical interventions?
  14. 14. Imaginaries shape… Our ‘possibility space’ - what is seen as viable Our ‘issue space’ – what is seen as desirable • Energy concerns ▫ Affordability ▫ Decarbonisation ▫ Security • How energy futures might turn out • Scenarios or ‘system states’ • Drivers
  15. 15. Expert imaginaries and everyday life • Expert imaginaries shape particular views of how the future might turn out • But qualitative QLL study of everyday life can show how everyday practices and identities may obstruct or facilitate change • This can help innovation become more responsive to the concerns, aspirations and desires of individuals and communities
  16. 16. Current Case Studies : • FLEXIS engineering projects - to explore future visions • Bridgend/Upper Llynfi Valley district heating schemes • Lammas ecovillage – experiences of living with radical energy system change
  17. 17. Relevant Publications and Presentations • Thomas, G., Groves, C., Henwood, K., and Pidgeon, N. (in press) Texturing waste: Attachment and identity in everyday consumption and waste practices”, Environmental Values • Groves, C., Henwood, K.L., Shirani, F., Butler, C., Parkhill, K.A., and Pidgeon, N. (2016). "The grit in the oyster: questioning socio-technical imaginaries through biographical narratives of engagement with energy." Journal of Responsible Innovation, DOI: 10.1080/23299460.2016.1178897 • Groves, C., Henwood, K.L., Shirani, F., Butler, C., Parkhill, K.A., and Pidgeon, N. (2016) Invested in unsustainability? On the psychosocial patterning of engagement in practices.’ Environmental Values 25(3): 309-328. • Groves, C., Henwood, K.L., Shirani, F., Butler, C., Parkhill, K.A., and Pidgeon, N. (2015) Energy biographies: narrative genres, lifecourse transitions and practice change, Science, Technology and Human Values, DOI: 10.1177/0162243915609116. • Shirani, F., Parkhill, K., Butler, C., Groves, C., Henwood, K., Pidgeon, N. (2015) Asking about the future: methodological insights from energy biographies." International Journal of Social Research Methodology, DOI: 10.1080/13645579.2015.1029208 • Recent presentations ▫ ‘Energy, Biographies and Demand Reduction’, Hubnet Smart Grid Symposium 2015: The Future of Network Infrastructure, September 19th 2015 ▫ ‘How Energy Matters’, St Andrews Energy and Ethics conference, 17-18 March 2016 ▫ ‘Energy biographies, psychosocial research and sustainable living’, British Sociological Association Annual Conference, Aston University, Birmingham, April 6-8th 2016 ▫ ‘The grit in the oyster: questioning socio-technical imaginaries’, DEMAND Centre Conference, Lancaster University, 13-15 April 2016 ▫ “Interpretive risk research”, Society for Risk Analysis Europe, Bath 20-22 June 2016
  18. 18. Other team Members: Professor Nick Pidgeon, Dr Chris Groves & Dr Fiona Shirani (Cardiff)