Does energy transition emancipate?

Rémi ZANNI (Paris Diderot University – Paris 7/LCSP)

This paper aims at questioning the role of energy transition in relation to emancipation or, more specifically, knowing if energy transition as social project can make us freer or more autonomous.
First, this question may appear absurd. Indeed, emancipation is absolutely not the aim of the energy transition according to dominant ecology thought. Sustainable development has another issue: the preservation of our natural resources, the conservation of our capacity to survive in our natural environment. Energy production is, in this acceptation, essential to question because it threatens to make Earth uninhabitable; we have to make it renewable and more efficient. This is a technical issue and if we want to think it in a social way, we need to question the popular acceptance of the technical solution.
It is this technological approach of energy that Ivan Illich’s thought challenges. The quantitative (or calorific) thinking of energy deprived us of our ability to distinguish between metabolic energy (the energy of our bodies) and exogenous energy (the energy of natural forces that we divert to fulfill our purposes). Yet, according to Illich, when this one – pure or pollutant, rare or abundant – dominates that one, this establishes a “radical monopoly” which prevents us from using our metabolic energy and compels us to join the “megamachine” (“mégamachine”), to submit to a “technological system” (“système technicien”) controlled by expertise and sole energy provider. Therefore, an energy transition according to radical political ecology would be to reverse this submissive relationship and to regain politically our power to decide which energy we want to use, what degree of alienation our societies accept. Hence, the energy transition thought with Illich’s concepts appears vector of autonomy and subsequently emancipating.
Therefore, there might be not one but two energy transitions. Are they compatible? From goal’s perspective, there is no contradiction: the first one aims the possibility of surviving, the second one the possibility of living a truly human life. They could even be complementary if not dialectically embedded. However, as Arendt reminds us, political issues concern much more the means than the goals. Thus, this paper would conclude with a confrontation between the means used by these two energy transitions: are they actually compatible in a perspective of emancipation?

KEY WORDS: Ivan Illich, energy transition, emancipation, autonomy, political ecology.

Citizen participation and local energy governance: a sociological analysis of grassroots energy initiatives in German cities.

Thomas BLANCHET (École des Ponts Paris Tech/ LATTS)
Conrad KUNZE (University of Halle-Wittenberg/Helmholtz- Centre for Environmental Research)
Becker SÖREN (Leibniz-Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning)

This study aims to investigate the growing influence played by grassroots initiatives on the urban energy governance in Germany. In the context of the national policy of the energy turnaround (Energiewende), Germany experiences an upsurge of local actors in the governance of energy (local authorities, municipal utilities, citizen initiatives). Among them, grassroots initiatives increasingly strive to take part in designing the future energy system. Up to now however, little is known about the emergence and impact of energy grassroots initiatives in the local governance of energy systems. Why do citizen initiatives get involved in energy governance and how can they influence the local energy policy in an urban context? Under the term of “community energy”, the existing literature mainly focuses on the collaborative character of such projects and neglects the potential conflicts that can result from the emergence of new actors in a field already controlled by incumbents (municipal authorities, local energy operators).
Based on expert interviews and a document analysis and relying on a strategic analysis approach (Crozier and Friedberg, 1977; Fligstein and McAdam, 2012), this study focuses on the emergence and development of energy grassroots initiatives and their interactions with established actors in five German municipalities (Hamburg, Berlin, Aachen, Jena, Leipzig). The results suggest that while the impact of national debates on energy transitions have been important factors for the emergence of such initiatives, these initiatives are generally triggered by the discontent of several citizens with the local energy policy. Therefore they aim at imposing an alternative policy program related to energy production and/or distribution. To achieve their goals, citizens may rely on a diversity of organizational instruments (cooperatives, local referendum, saving bounds). Finally, the results show that the success of such initiatives varies largely depending on the local regulation, the strategy they adopted, and the relationships of cooperation and/or conflicts developed with the established actors.

KEY WORDS: citizen initiatives, local governance, empowerment, energy transition, privatisation.

Public opinion or opinion of publics: how and who gets involved into energy related issues?

Jérémy BOUILLET (University of Grenoble/UMR PACTE ; EDF R&D)

In terms of energy, normative injonctions to save energy are numerous and often centered on the idea of “best practices” dissemination. Indeed, a common instrumental supposition –quite developed within the field of politics- considers that bringing the “right” knowledge to the citizen is enough to make him act “correctly”. But ordinary citizens being neither incompetent nor overcompetent, they rather tinker these normative injonctions adhering to part of them, questioning other parts in order to make them compatible with their values and interests, lifestyles and the socio-technical devices on which those lifestyles are backed.
Facing the issues’ complexity of the « Great Society » (quoting Graham Wallas) that prevent ordinary citizens from having an immediate and intuitive understanding of public life, John Dewey proposed a version of the social world less « given » that « in the making ». And while some people work hard to avoid a confrontation with public problems -partly, but not only because of their complexity-, other people face the problems that affect them and take note of the unexpected consequences that are beyond their single action. A public is then born from the realization of the importance of the issue and the disruption it represents, a public that now seeks solutions to the public problem.
These publics engage in a number of discursive activities that can be considered as a social activity like any other. Taking the insights of pragmatism, this paper proposes to look at how people discuss the legitimacy of the public problem of energy through the narrative forms it produces and the degree of support it generates; the issue is also so see how storytelling and arguments on energy issues are variously appropriated by an « ordinary citizen » whose practices also address other constraints, including user and consumer.
This communication also has a methodological dimension: while the approach by « good practice » is limited to the observation of the progression (or regression) of energy theme in public opinion, and enjoy (or deplore) the changes of major indicators surveys, an approach by the public gives its place back to the typicality and importance of energy issues for people. The aim is then less to find the latent public opinion on energy issues than to understand the mechanisms of its development.
This work is based on the analysis of open-ended questions on two surveys conducted in the PACA region in 2009 and 2013.

KEY WORDS: public, Dewey, public problem, public opinion, political competence.

The users’ involvement into energy transition: an application of the empowerment concept in the energy field.


The empowerment, and the different ways citizen-users get involved in energy projects is a major issue and concern for energy companies such as GDF SUEZ.
Fully invested to achieve the energy transition objectives (thermal buildings renovation, positive energy buildings , new eco-efficient materials, elimination of fuel poverty , building management etc.) of Big Data and Smart (metering/grids/city/building) projects, energy companies have to face two major challenges which are both complementary but sometimes contradictory. On the one hand, companies seem to be concerned about the way they could give responsibilities to users in order to help them control their energy consumption and thus expenditure. In the other hand, the rising individual demands and preferences from active players and the society in general have to be considered.
From that point, it seems that we have to deal with two profiles: the user as a consumerist and an individualistic person that we have to empower, and the user as a citizen who get involved and interested in making his point of view and in deciding with the strategic energy players.
The goal of this communication would be to explore the reasons why energy companies take into account those challenges and new trends and to discuss the ways they implement them in their plans. Two fields will be studied with an empirical approach and concrete examples:
- the technological innovation: the co-construction of services and in the design of technological innovation projects, in implementation and deployment of Smart Grids (cf. Greenlys project) ; and in a forward-looking manner, the emergence of a model in which each user / unit / building / city / area would potentially become a smart and autonomous unit of production and consumption in the energy sector;
- the organizational field: the limits of vertical, centralized and planned organizational culture in favour of a collaborative / distributive / horizontal / decentralized logic, particularly through corporate policies to recognize users’ abilities, skills, (calls for participation / suggestions / feedback / online survey towards users – energy players).

KEY WORDS: empowerment, smart grids, distributive economy, collective intelligence, active players.

The environmental associations investment in steering energy cooperatives: towards a participatory terms professionalisation?

Guillaume CHRISTEN (University of Strasbourg/SAGE – UMR 7363 CNRS)

This contribution proposes to enligther the implementation of a participatory device in the field of energy transition. Indeed, the challenge isn’t to reaffirm the primacy of the social over the technique, but to now question the possibilities of the energy issues’ social reappropriation by a large number of key players. The Organization of this instrument is then delegated to activists experts in cooperative projects and associative actors. These collective actors seek to promote citizen cooperatives and offer the inhabitants the possibity to become shareholders of local renewable energy projects. Our communication focuses on the implementation of a citizien wind power project. Its participaty dimensions consists in including users in the energy transition via popular shareholding merns. More specifically, our attention focuses on this delegation, which reflects the status of environmental associations, playing a growing expert role of with the local authorities, or even local authorities in the implementation of projects (Lascoumes, 1994; Hamman and Blanc, 2009). These associative actors driving collaborative projects and defining the participatory terms organize themselves in the form of a ‘community of specialists’ and take the form of an « associative elite » (Hajek, 2009). Our aim is to question this professionalization process and its consequences when it relates to their abilities in putting the energy transition issue within ordinary actors’ reach. From a methodological point of view, we conducted interviews with inhabitants (thirty interviews) and project leaders (elected representatives, technicians, so a dozen interviews). As a results, we note that the professionalization frome of references’ gives a relatively closed nature to the participatory terms. The confinement of popular shasholding to a “political expertise” (Claeys- Mekdade, 2006), which concerns all the administrative and legal ressources essential to the wind project steering, is at the source of the instrument’s unequal relations. Are these appropriations differentiated, indicative of emerging forms of inequality? These result in unequal capacities to participe and raly environmental projects (Chaumel and La Branche, 2008) or in unequal “contribution” (Gadrey, 2007) to engage in energy transition.

KEY WORDS: environmental associations, energy cooperative, expertise, environmental democracy, environmental inequalities.

Adding or substracting : the art of growing without destroying solar cooperative collectives.

Antoine FONTAINE (University of Grenoble/PACTE ; CIRED)
Olivier LABUSSIERE (University of Grenoble/PACTE)

This communication presents some research outcomes from a PhD project focused on a pilot-project : the ‘Centrales Villageoises Photovoltaïques’ (Rhône-Alpes, France).
This experience is a pioneer project in terms of creating integrated to the building photovoltaïc cooperatives in France. It takes place in eight localities in five different natural parks of the Rhône-Alpes administrative region. It is funded by both the European Union and the region, and animated by the Rhône-Alpes Energie Environnement association. The experience aims to promote a model of development of electricity production from photovoltaïc panels which contributes to, and respects, local goals of development. By doing so, it explicitly adopts an opposing stance to the french national policy for the development of photovoltaïcs which might be assessed as problematic in the light of the financial speculative wave it generated.
This communication focuses on the sociotechnical construction of photovoltaïc roofs – which usually have individual and exclusive existence through propriety rights– and analyses the process of emergence of collective dynamics and the constitution of the solar resource as a ‘common’. How building’s materiality should be understood as a key resource to develop collective photovoltaïc units of production ? How does this open a new collective space to negociate choices including new dimensions (architecural, related to the landscape) ?
The analysis describes processes of ‘attachment’ (in the way defined by the science and technology studies) of these solar roofs to architecture and landscape. The analysis of these attachments tells us about the creation of ‘promising solar sites’, about the deployment of spatial differentiation dynamics, and about the stages of the collective’s constitution. These experiences face two main constraints related to the form of the feed-in tariff (i.e. different levels of remuneration for public and private roofs) and to the electric grid (i.e. connexion costs and their consequences on the projects’ rentabilities). The analysis underlines several process of adjustement : reducing the quantitative ambition of the collectives and preserving the multi-dimensional apprehension of the solar potential (architecture, landscape…) and the solidarity process, or dislocating the collective to the benefit of individual profitability ambitions.
If renewable energy cooperative experiences are often facing uncertain futures, this communication contributes to their analysis with a focus on the role of technical tools (solar potential assessment methods, landscape assessment’s…) that are made in parallel to the cooperatives development and which capacity to maintain an apprehension of the solar resource as a ‘common’ is often neglected.

KEY WORDS: Solar energy, cooperative, territory, attachments.

Successful Public Participation on Denmark’s Renewable Energy Island Samsø?
A Question of Perspective.

Irina PAPAZU (University of Copenhague/Political Science Department)
Olivier LABUSSIERE (University of Grenoble/PACTE)

The Danish island of Samsø with 4000 inhabitants – until 1997 an inconspicuous farming and tourism island – is Denmark’s world-famous Renewable Energy Island self-sufficient with renewable energy through windmills, solar panels and district heating.
The process of de-carbonization of most aspects of life on the island has demanded a strong degree of community ownership and involvement in the various energy-related projects, and Samsø today is as famous for its successful community involvement as for its renewable energy plants.
This paper takes a closer look at the processes through which participation and engagement in the projects was crafted and how through the practical and material work involved in the projects a re-dynamization of the local community has occurred over time.
Samsø, however, is not praised by everyone as a successful energy community. Critics claim that the citizens of Samsø are not sufficiently aware of their energy consumption, that they have not become conscious energy consumers, because the project’s focus has been on changing the energy source, not on the amount of energy used. The paper examines the adequacy of these critiques and discusses the diverse criteria of success and failure in relation to participation that can be applied to public energy projects.
Theoretically, the paper draws on the concept and theory of ‘material participation’ as it has been developed by Bruno Latour, Noortje Marres, Kristin Asdal and others within the field of Science and Technology Studies. Methodologically, the paper draws on qualitative data material generated through five months of fieldwork on Samsø.

KEY WORDS: Energy transitions, public participation, material politics, community, renewable energy.

Citizen prospective to encourage a dynamic of energy and societal transition.

Mathieu LE DÛ (Virage-énergie association, Nord-Pas de Calais)

The NGO Virage-énergie Nord-Pas de Calais has engaged a research project in 2012 to develop prospective energy scenarios focused on energy savings by energy sufficiency and energy efficiency, and on the potential for renewable energies across the Nord-Pas de Calais region. This project is conducted with the financial support of the Regional Council of Nord-Pas-de-Calais and ADEME, in collaboration with two university research laboratories: the laboratory Territoires, Villes, Environnement et Société from the University of Lille 1 and the laboratory Ceraps from Science Po Lille. In developing those scenarios, Virage-énergie Nord-Pas de Calais mobilizes citizens in order to build together a unifying vision of a possible and desirable future. Energy sufficiency, defined as a voluntary and organized strategy to reduce energy consumption by changing lifestyles and social structures, is the core of this reflection. Energy scenarios not only point out the need to change energy uses in everyday life, but also to drive an economic and social transition. Thus, working groups including researchers, volunteers and employees of the association work together to explore the issues, to discuss alternatives and to assess potential effects of such scenarios. The proposed paper will introduce the methodology used to develop those citizen prospective scenarios and their main results. It will also describe the purpose of the associative approach: to encourage a collective process of reflection and change, by building tools to support public decision and to raise awareness among citizens on energy issues and the benefits of energy sufficiency.

KEY WORDS: Citizen prospective, energy scenarios, energy sufficiency, societal changes, public policy.

Deploying smartness in energy grids through a co-design approach at the urban district level.

Dario PADOVAN (University of Torino)
Osman ARROBBIO (University of Torino ; IRIS Interdisciplinary Research Institute on Sustainability)

To manage the energy transition to a more sustainable system, a new highly complex, self-balancing energy system called ‘Smart Grid’ has been initiated. Smart grid is a process of defining and developing intelligent control technologies to control and coordinate flexible consumption in order to maintain a balance between production and consumption in the overall energy system. The smart grid vision and the development of smart grid solutions are influenced by often conflicting interests and objectives among actors involved in the grid, which make smart grids very weak in performance and do not contribute to realign and bring closer providers, intermediating managers and end-users. This is one of the reason why, despite the plethora of R&D and demonstration projects, only little has been achieved in terms of actually realising the smart grid visions fully. There is still a gap between the ideas of the future smart grid system and the practical realisation of these ideas.
This communication is aimed at contributing to fill up this gap developing a system to manage smart grid at the urban district level. Moreover, the integration of information technologies and sensors of many kinds allows the collection of an increasing amount of data. Finding the rights places and roles for data and sensors is the other key challenge to deal with if the deployment of smartness in energy systems is to be achieved.
In this communication, the results of a qualitative research centered around a district heating system will be discussed. Fifty interviews and six focus groups have been carried out in Turin (Italy), town where almost two thirds of the population is served by district heating. Experts of different backgrounds, citizens, as well as City Council’s representatives have been involved into a project aimed at co-designing tools for the visualization and simulation of feedbacks related to thermal energy issues at the neighborhood level. Mapping activities have been carried out related to: the features of the human actants currently playing a role in the district heating grid, the current as well as the imagined technical apparatuses, the relations linking all of them with each other, the problematizations of which they are carrier.

KEY WORDS: smart grids, district heating, socio-technical systems, energy feedbacks, co-design.

Smart grid research and the design of their users.

Georgia GAYE (ULB/Sustainable Development Studies Centre)
Grégoire WALLENBORN (ULB/Sustainable Development Studies Centre)

As part of the 20-20-20 target set by the European Union, the Walloon Region has decided to fund the FLEXIPAC project that seeks to evaluate the potential of flexibility of heat pumps system (via the conversion of electricity into heat). The electricity network faces an increasing part of intermittent renewable energy production, which requires to find processes of upward and downward balancing on the low and medium voltage grid.
We worked as sociologists and designers on the project, in collaboration with engineers and economists, in order to evaluate the potential flexibility of users having a heat pump. In order to collect accurate data on energy consumption, smart meters have been installed in 70 households and 15 small businesses who have all heat pumps. During our field analysis, we interviewed twice 29 participants, conducted three focus groups and realized several online questionnaires. We compared respondents’ statements to their actions in order to focus on their domestic practices. We have investigated the following research questions: how do householders manage their comfort? How do they use and control their heating system? How do respondents manage their electricity consumption? Are they willing to delegate the management of their devices to external operators?
The analysis of our data yields to four types of profiles in our sample (although initially biased): the economist, the technician, the ecologist and the balanced. This typology of user is used to translate to the project partners, the variety of participants’ interest to flexibility and the diversity of logics present in their actions.
In the paper we show how these profiles are related to the logics which preside over their actions such as: economic calculation, ecological practices, technical practices, appropriation of the heat pump system, management of energy consumption, thermal flexibility (as stated by respondents), electricity consumption and possible shift in the timing of electricity demand.
In analysing the profiles, we show notably that the potential for flexibility and change is larger for ecologists (who have non economic values), whereas economists (who matches the neo-classical model) are little interested in saving energy. We conclude that some segments are not taken into account in the development of current policies. Today, smart grid instruments are mainly based on information, prices and technology. Environment, participation, community are hardly explored in smart grid projects although they might rally important portions of the users.

KEY WORDS: smart grid, practice theory, segmentation, user, flexibility.

Les économies d’énergie saisies à l’aulne des pratiques discursives : une approche par la casuistique.

Michèle MOINE (Université de Grenoble/Laboratoire Jean Kuntzmann)

L’analyse de l’évolution des réponses à une question ouverte posée successivement en 2009 et 2013 à deux échantillons d’habitants de la région PACA (N=1866) sur les raisons de ne pas faire des économies d’énergie a mis en évidence ce que l’on peut qualifier de « desserrement normatif » : en 2013, les habitants de Paca sont sensiblement moins nombreux (moins dix points par rapport à 2009) dans leur discours à réprouver le fait de ne pas économiser d’énergie. Parallèlement, la proportion de répondants politisant dans leurs discours les questions d’économie d’énergie – en mettant en cause les solutions d’actions publiques (Zittoun, 2013) mises en œuvre – s’avère stable (autour de 6%). Dans une perspective pragmatiste, ce sont donc des énoncés neutralisant la charge normative (absence de stigmatisation) sans toutefois dénoncer explicitement le caractère injuste de ce type de solution qui progressent sensiblement (Brugidou et Moine 2010; Brugidou 2013). Le contexte politique et économique constitue une des clefs, lisible dans ces réponses, permettant d’expliquer ces évolutions, que l’on peut apparenter à des formes d’exit (Hirschman, 1970).
A partir de la présentation de ce dispositif d’enquête original et d’un premier état des lieux permettant d’identifier et de caractériser d’un point de vue sociolinguistique des pratiques discursives liées aux économies d’énergie, cette communication se propose d’explorer une autre hypothèse que la désaffection à l’égard de la norme. Celle-ci voit dans l’examen par les personnes interrogées des conditions de l’exercice concret de la norme des raisons légitimes de différer ou d’aménager son application. Deux types d’arguments peuvent venir soutenir cette assertion :
- un argument empirique mis en évidence par l’analyse des données textuelles. L’analyse montre une focalisation plus forte en 2009 qu’en 2013 des énoncés sur le thème des économies d’énergie. Les répondants évoquent moins le principe de la norme que ses conditions concrètes d’application et les difficultés éventuelles qu’elles entraînent. Bien que les répondants stigmatisent moins les déviances et politisent toujours marginalement les questions d’économies d’énergies, ils en parlent néanmoins davantage et plus précisément, leur compétence linguistique thématique progressant entre 2009 et 2013.
- un argument théorique issu de la « nouvelle casuistique » et relevant de la sociologie morale. Selon A. Jonsen et S. Toulmin (1988), « l’ambition [des casuistes] n’est pas d’élaborer ou d’appliquer des principes pour décider [de questions en rapport avec la justice sociale] : ils se proposent simplement de construire une solution acceptable à un problème ponctuel » (Goffi, 2001, p106). A rebours de l’argument Pascalien reprochant à la casuistique son approche intentionnelle et finalement son laxisme – l’intention pure exemptant des effets néfastes de l’action -, la nouvelle casuistique fait de l’examen des circonstances multiples de l’action – et non de la conscience – les conditions d’une actualisation de la norme, voire de son évolution.
Dans cette perspective, le « desserrement normatif » constaté serait à interpréter non comme un recul mais au contraire comme une forme d’approfondissement collectif, une « descente en généralité » (Rosanvallon, 2007-2008, p. 464) à travers l’exploration tous azimuts des conséquences des politiques d’économies d’énergie par les publics de ces politiques.

MOTS CLÉS : Economie d’énergie, norme sociale, énoncés de politique publique, public, pratiques discursives.