SHAPE ENERGY Research Design Challenge

Control, Change and Capacity-Building in Energy Systems

European and worldwide energy policy and research are largely influenced by knowledge and disciplines from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Yet the challenges energy transitions entail concern social patterns as well, like individual or organisational behaviour and their management. These issues are covered by energy-related Social Sciences and Humanities (energy-SSH) disciplines. In fact, according to the European Commission (EC) Horizon2020 work programme on energy, knowledge from numerous fields of research is necessary to realise the ambitious goals of energy transitions concerning emissions reductions, renewable energy shares and the concomitant changes in social organisation. In what ways different energy-SSH disciplines design a research challenge related to overarching energy research problems (see next section) is the objective of this call. Ultimately, it aims at inferring consequences for multi- and interdisciplinary energy-SSH research that serves both the academic and energy policy community.

Therefore, the SHAPE ENERGY platform, represented herein by the partner institution Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS), invites European SSH researchers to take part in our ‘Research Design Challenge’. This challenge contains three sub-challenges framed as social science research problems on energy relating to control, change and capacity-building in energy systems (see below). The Research Design Challenge is an attempt to deepen our understanding of interdisciplinarity by analysing how different social sciences and humanities disciplines research the same scientific problem. Across multiple SSH disciplines, up to 15 teams of at least 2 researchers from at least 2 European countries (EU member states and associated countries, see pdf download for details) will be selected and funded with up to 2.500 Euros to foster collaboration (funded to cover travel to meet up).  In the wake of current EC initiatives, applications to this call for abstracts could be, among others, appealing for researchers who plan on follow-up applications with H2020 or EU-related programmes like COST or Marie Skłodowska-Curie, for instance. We seek your application for an eventual 3.000-4.000 words paper on one of these challenges if you are researching in one of the following SSH disciplines: Business; Communication Studies; Criminology; Demography; Development; Economics; Environmental social science; Education; Gender; History; Human geography; Law; Linguistics/languages; Philosophy; Planning (architecture); Politics; Psychology; Science/tech studies; Sociology; Social anthropology; Social innovation; Social policy; Theology. However we note that it is fine to include SSH disciplines from outside this list.  


For the Research Design Challenge, we are interested in your theories, methods and approaches to an energy related research problem from your disciplinary point of view (see list above to qualify). The prerequisite is that you find at least one more partner (individual[s] from European academic institution[s]) from a different European country (H2020 eligible countries) to collaborate on the challenge. The challenge itself is kept relatively general in order for many potential researches being able to connect to it. They relate to the overarching research problems of control, change and capacity-building in energy systems from a social science and humanities perspective (concept and concomitant challenges based on: Büscher/Sumpf 2015, see pdf download for details). Please consider the following three sub-challenges to relate to:

Challenge A: It is argued by many STEM and energy-SSH scholars alike that future energy systems will increase in complexity, due to larger degrees of decentralisation and the growing amount of actors and technical components in the grid. Against this background, it will be a challenge for system operators and supervisors in numerous fields to remain in control of what happens in the system, i.e. control of technical processes (safety, security of supply, load management etc.) as well as social processes (e.g. control of market developments, control of electricity prices, control of smart grid data etc. ). From your (disciplinary) point of view, how would you approach the (research and real-world) problem of control in future energy systems? What theories and methods would you apply to research this problem? What approaches would you suggest to act upon this problem?

Challenge B: During the current energy transitions in Europe and beyond, we see that institutional change and learning are crucial prerequisites in order to achieve a more efficient and sustainable system, i.e. changing markets with new challenger actors, learning utilities extending their portfolios, changing political subsidies policies etc. In this connection, energy-SSH discussions circle around degrees and relations of stability and change, given that some elements in the system must remain stable to perform system functions reliably during the transition with regard to current sustainment of operation (security of supply today, safety today, price stability today etc.). In other words, you can’t change everything at once. This paradigm is often associated with the notion of (societal) experimentation, where certain islands of innovation are being tested and set variant while others remain stable to deliver familiar output, e.g. incumbent actors trying to hold on to the status quo while experimental niches try to foster innovation as quickly as possible. This balance between stability and change in the system for a transition to be successfully implemented is a repeated point of reference for energy-SSH. From your (disciplinary) point of view, how would you approach the (research and real-world) problem of stability and change toward future energy systems? What theories and methods would you apply to research this problem? What approaches would you suggest to act upon this problem?

Challenge C: In the past, the energy system was said to be existing only ‘behind the power outlet’. The consumer was usually not considered an active part of the system, but rather the passive receptor of a service, or the ‘end-user’. This pattern is currently, and more so in the future, under transition along energy system innovation. ‘Prosumers‘ and ‘energy citizens‘, designed as active system components, are desired as roles for average consumers, helping the grid´s stability as demand-side management resources due to intermittent renewable energy sources, as well as creating new business opportunities for consumers and European economies alike. The underlying prerogative for this kind of development clearly is the mobilisation of action capacity (i.e. the ability to act in the face of uncertainty) among both private and commercial consumers, who are expected to more actively participate in load shifting operations to make the ‘smart grid’ work. From your (disciplinary) point of view, how would you approach the (research and real-world) problem of capacity-building, i.e. fostering the actions necessary to realise active consumer involvement? What theories and methods would you apply to research this problem? What approaches would you suggest to act upon this problem?

List of all abstracts and academic groups involved within the different challenges.

Author Title
Smedberg, A.; Light, A. She’s lost control again: A case study on localised energy production in Orkney
Larsen, K.; Şorman, A. H.;
Turhan, E.
Reconciling qualitative and quantitative storytelling in just energy decisionmaking:
New scenarios for a new energetic metabolism
Smedberg, A.; Light, A. She’s lost control again: A case study on localised energy production in Orkney
Wokuri, P.; Pechancová, V. Stability and Change in Energy Systems:Islands of innovation in the UK,
Czech Republic and France
CHALLENGE B: Stability & Change
Author Title
Hobson, K.; Eadson, W.; Aiken, G.; Dinnie, L. The role of community energy in shifting energy landscapes:
exploring multi-scalar networks of stability and change
Oliveira, S.; Baborska-Narozny, M. Feeding back or feeding forward? A new lens into building energy use
Wagner, A.; Lis, A.; Ruzzenenti, F.; Walnum, H.J Envisaging the unintended social consequences of a transition
from fossil fuel based toelectric and electronic mobility
Greene, M.; Schiffer, A. Learning from past and current energy transitions to build sustainable
and resilient energy futures: lessons from Ireland and The Gambia
Märker, C.; Milchram, Chr. How can institutional change in complex socio-technical systems
be guided by an analysis of underlying values?
Schippl, J.; von Wirth, T. Including a spatial perspective into research on socio-technical transitions:
case studies in the Swiss energy and German transport sector
Buchmann, K.;Heffer, Sh.; Mintz Cohen, Y.P. How do energy start-ups and energy societal experimentation projects in
Israel and Germany constitute the inside (conformity) and outside (rebellion)?
CHALLENGE C: Capacity-Building
Author Title
Della Valle, N.; Poderi, G. What works for Consumer Engagement in Energy Transition:
Experimenting a Behavioral-Sociological approach
Fell, M ; Neves, D. Do learnings on community participation in island microgrid projects map
across to urban quasi- or islanded-microgrid contexts, and if so, how?
Hanna, J.; Auger, J.; Watts, L Through the Wall
Schweiker, M.; Huebner, G. Beyond the average consumer:
Exploring the potential to increase the activity of consumers in loadshifting behaviours
by means of custom‐made applications

Call for applications closed on 6 October 2017.

Indicative timeline

  • 6th October 2017 – Deadline for abstract submission
  • October 2017 – Review of abstracts and notification of participants
  • March 2018 – Deadline for submission of final papers and for submission of receipts for reimbursement (one submission per team, one reimbursement per team)
  • April 2018 – Research design challenges are published online (open access) and also submitted to the EC’s strategy unit for energy research and innovation.

Eligibility criteria

A team of prospective research design challenge co-authors will only be eligible if they:

Participant selection, after the Call for Abstracts being circulated across the various European SSH communities, is primarily made according to the following selection criteria:

  • Matching with the three challenge outlines presented above

  • Innovativeness and academic quality in approach and design

  • Diversity of researchers and disciplines throughout Europe

  • Overall fit in the eventual collection of 15 design challenge papers

  • Realistic budgetary planning

On the basis of these criteria, abstracts will be chosen to further progress on their desired collaboration and funding. Eventually, we will ask successful applicants of this call for abstracts to hand in 3.000-4.000 words papers following up on their abstracts until early March 2018. Notification of acceptance or rejection of abstracts will be provided to applicants by October 2017. 

Contact & Questions prior to submission: We look forward to exciting applications!