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.