Ph.D. Projekt: The role of households in socio-technical transitions towards sustainable energy systems



The role of households in the transition to sustainable energy systems – with particular focus on the ’smart grid’

The PhD project is part of a strategic research alliance, which aims at supporting the sustainable transition of broader socio-technical systems resulting in less consumption of fossil energy. The overall project, "Enabling and governing transitions to a low carbon society", will develop knowledge and strategies, which support a more coordinated interaction between the societal actors that are involved in the transition process.
The PhD project focuses particularly on households and their role in the new challenges that have arisen following the interest in increasing integration of renewable energy in energy systems. To support Danish householders in consuming more ‘green’ electricity and less ‘black’ fossil fuels, both governmental- and energy sector stakeholders expects an increase in electricity demand from e.g. domestic heat pumps and electric cars. Thus, to avoid increased peak loads and improve the interaction between fluctuating production (e.g. from wind energy) and demand of electricity, the development of an energy supply system utilizing information- and communication technologies (ICT) – i.e. a ‘smart grid’ – is often highlighted together with ‘smart home’ demand management of electricity.
The PhD is based on a case study of the current Danish smart grid development including participatory observation fieldwork in the demonstration project eFlex. This project was commissioned by the largest utility company in Denmark and aimed at investigating the possibilities for flexible electricity consumption in 119 households in the Copenhagen area.

Theoretically the project draws on a combination of three related theoretical fields:
•Studies of technology and everyday life in an environmental perspective, where the newest research suggests applying a practice theory perspective (Shove et al. 2003; Gram-Hanssen 2008; Røpke 2009).
•Studies of infrastructure and consumption in a sustainability perspective (Southerton et al. 2004).
•Studies of broader socio-technical transition processes and of the possibility for governance in relation to such processes (Elzen et al. 2004).
Hence, practice theory is expected to be one of the key approaches to analyse the eFlex household interviews – i.e. the intention is to investigate how the ‘smart home’ in the smart grid system can interact with the continuous changes of everyday practices in households.

The overall aim for the PhD is to contribute with knowledge on the role of households in the transition towards sustainable energy systems. The research will shed light on the potentials of the smart grid/smart home development for contributing to a sustainable development; and theoretically the aim is to develop practice theory as well as transition theories by working conceptually with the co-development between systems and practices in transition. Moreover, the PhD will bring together literature on domestication theory and practice theory.
Effektiv start/slut dato01/06/201020/05/2014