News & Views Blog

Sensing Energy at Cardiff Stemettes Event

Last month, members of the Energy Biographies/FLEXIS team attended an event organised by Stemettes aimed at encouraging young women to think about careers in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). At the event we exhibited some of the materials from our ‘A Sense of Energy’ exhibition with the aim of showing attendees that technical issues surrounding energy and sustainability can also be addressed from a social science and creative arts perspective. These are issues that continue to be at the forefront of our thinking now that we are working as part of a large interdisciplinary network, FLEXIS. The event provided a great opportunity to re-use some of our fantastic interactive exhibits, which we hope to do more of in future.
Pictures from the event are available here and a short film about the event was made by BBC news

FLEXIS at the Policy Forum for Wales

by Chris Groves, 18 July 2016

Professor Nick Pidgeon attended the Policy Forum For Wales Seminar, ‘Realising Wales’ Energy Potential’, held in the Park Inn hotel in Cardiff on 14th July 2016. Delegates discussed recent EU and Welsh Government investments in energy research in Wales, the practical near-term prospects for progress with new technologies in fields of energy storage and energy efficiency, as well as the future for marine energy including the tidal lagoon at Swansea Bay and alternative marine energy projects in Pembrokeshire and Anglesey.

Also central to discussions was Wales as a destination for inward investment in energy, the potential for building major wind, solar, nuclear and gas infrastructure in Wales and the next steps for delivery. Sessions also examined how to encourage further community renewable projects and overcoming the challenges such projects pose for the grid. All these topics are central to the work programmes of the FLEXIS project, and Prof. Pidgeon described to attendees how it will tackle these challenges, and how social science work on FLEXIS will build on the Energy Biographies project.

Energy Challenges for Wales: The Flexible Integrated Energy Systems (FLEXIS) Project from energybiographies

From Energy Biographies to Flexible Energy Systems

by Chris Groves, 19 May 2016

Flexis logo

The Energy Biographies team are now working as part of the FLEXIS project, which is part of the new Energy Systems Research Institute at Cardiff University. This project brings together academics from Cardiff, Swansea and the University of South Wales, and benefits from expertise in engineering, architecture, geography and social science.

How we all use energy is likely to change in coming years, against the background of the ‘energy trilemma’ – the need to provide secure access to energy for all, to keep it affordable, and last but certainly not least, to decarbonise the energy system. But introducing new renewable sources of energy has big implications, which will require new innovations in energy storage and in the infrastructure through which energy is distributed. In turn, these have potentially significant social impacts in terms of their benefits, where they are sited, and how they are paid for.

·         Will we see an upsurge in community ownership of energy infrastructure?

·         Will tidal lagoons or other sources of hydropower play a big role?

·         Will heating be provided to whole communities by waste heat from hospitals or factories, or from geothermal sources, such as minewater?

The Energy Biographies team are leading on social science research under FLEXIS which will draw on key themes explored on the Energy Biographies project to help assess the social acceptability and viability of new innovations for flexible energy systems. Energy Biographies themes – such as how people make sense of energy in their everyday lives, how using energy in different ways contributes to the living of worthwhile lives, and how community experiments with new ways of using energy can open up different futures – will play a major part in helping to shape energy innovation in Wales in socially and environmentally responsible ways.

Launch of the Energy Systems Catapult

by Karen Henwood, 16 May 2016

The Energy Systems Catapult launch event in London on 9th May 2016 was useful in clarifying for its audience the perspective the Energy Systems Catapult is taking on energy systems change and its own role in this. The focus of the opening talks by speakers from outside the Catapult itself was mainly on technical innovations and, most particularly, with making them low risk enough for commercial funding to take off – thereby bringing services and products to market.

The Questions and Answers sessions, and the second session where presentations were given by members of the Catapult team, gave further insight into the Catapult’s own worldview in terms of its problem orientation, assumptions it is making about political and material realities, and what needs to change for energy systems functionality. One suggestion was that there is currently limited understanding of markets, but markets will unlock what works for people, and the risk is for government and industry that will have to catch up.

Similar points were picked up on in discussion of the Catapult’s Future Power System Architecture Project. Here it was argued that power systems will undergo transformative change, not gradual or incremental, but that this will involve development of new value propositions. The approach taken stressed the need to enable anticipation of the development of such value propositions and to be ahead of transformation rather than reacting by just responding piecemeal to systems change, which would not be efficient. There was some gesturing towards new functions around big data, data rich environments and cyber security.

For the Future Power System Architecture Project, consumers will be active participants in the system; and the point was made again that consumers will drive change by picking up fashions demanding change. Sub-optimal solutions would follow if there was not enough thinking ahead holistically about problems arising hindering the need for change and functionality in slow change systems.

Grant Bourhill, Director Smart Systems and Heat, spoke about enabling transition to low carbon homes. The UK has 10 years to prepare so it can meet carbon targets and there needs to be much greater increase in decarbonisation of homes. There will be hassle for homes changing their heating systems and concerns are not just about costs but aesthetics, size, noise and what it means for the household. What and how does the customer have to pay – a leasing model? They are developing energy path options for next year. Smart Systems and Heat will establish foundation stones for delivery of services that will be valuable for consumers.

For a social scientist, a number of the aforementioned points sounded short on evidence. For example, regarding assumptions about the relationship between people and markets, and as we take forward our previous work within Energy Biographies into a new interdisciplinary research programme (FLEXIS), we will need to review published literature to evaluate claims about consumer-drivers of technological change (e.g. in uptake of domestic heating infrastructure).

Jan Webb, the only social scientist on the programme, asked some important questions: if technology drivers are in place, why is action so fragmented? Her work has paved the way for a focus on governing innovations and changes at city level to get a valued slice through energy systems and with a focus on energy supply. But she also stressed the importance of human factors shaping demand and usage, which our own energy biographies research has illuminated though its focus on energy usage in everyday life, across the lifecourse, and psychosocial dynamics involved.

Climate Change: Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics – Launch conference of the new research centre, 28 April 2016

by Alice Dal Gobbo, 16/05/16

A new multi-disciplinary centre on Climate Change is taking form at Brighton University. The scholars taking part at the centre come from such different backgrounds as the social sciences, art and urban design. The launch conference reflected such diversity of research interests, and especially the three areas in which the group’s projects are divided: spaces, power and justice; environmental futures, communication and sustainability; embodiment, performance and process. The number of participants and speakers have been kept to a minimum in order for everybody to be able to listen to all of the engaging presentations.

In their diversity, the talks reflected the diverse issues that many climate change practitioners and researchers find themselves dealing with: how to communicate climate change? what are the barriers to behaviour change? what does it mean to act against climate change, and how to be more effective? what are the power issues that are necessarily involved in the politics of climate change? There were also reflections on the philosophical meaning of environmentalist discourses, such as an interesting Nietzschian interpretation of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything; as well as more psycho-social reflections on ecology.

I presented at the conference in a panel focused on “Communities of Resistance, Marginalisation and Change: Exploring Grassroots Voices and Everyday Practices”. I brought with me, by way of presentation, one of my participants’ photographs of their fridge of. I tried to show the ways in which it is possible to talk about desire, libidinal investments and enjoyment without talking about the psyche and interiority. Based on Deleuze and Guattari’s writings, I proposed a reflection on that fridge as part of a desiring assemblage that reaches from the present to the past and the future: connecting and dis-connecting materialities and expressive contents, the fridge became the focus for a reflection on dissidence and resistance practiced at the level of the everyday towards alternative, less consumption-intensive, life-styles. The presentation has very much interested and engaged the audience, who asked many thoughtful questions. This good response, I believe, is also related to the need to re-think small and banal practices not in terms of individuals and subjects (as often happens) but as part of wider societal assemblages.

To discover more about the centre:

Energy Biographies Final Report Available

by Chris Groves, 23 November 2015

Summarizing four years of research, the final report from the Energy Biographies project can now be viewed/downloaded (see below). The report sets out key findings, policy recommendations and also how the project has contributed to both substantive scholarship on dynamics of energy demand and to methodological development.

You can download a copy by clicking here [PDF], or view it below, via .

Energy Biographies Final Research report from energybiographies

Energy Biographies goes to 4S

by Chris Groves, 23 November 2015

The Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) annual conference is the largest international meeting for researchers working on the social impacts and aspects of science and technology. Held in Denver this year between 11 and 14 November, it brought together over 1000 researchers from around the world. Chris Groves presented data from the Energy Biographies project that show how the kinds of involvement people have in everyday practices and with specific technologies affect the value they place on them. Biographical interviews reveal that, while people often value convenience, they also feel ambivalent about it, particularly where it is associated with increasing ICT-enabled automation or ‘smartness’. Many interviewees value much higher than convenience activities that elicit emotional, imaginative and/or physical effort and bring a sense of accomplishment and connection to others. When viewing films which depict ‘future homes’ and feature lifestyles of increased convenience, poeople often drew unfavourable contrasts between these forms of life and more ‘effortful’ ones.

The presentation from Dr Groves’ talk can be viewed below. A draft paper on which the talk is based can be viewed or downloaded here.

The grit in the oyster: from energybiographies

Energy Biographies research presented in Cambridge and Exeter

by Chris Groves, 7 September 2015

Two major academic conferences kicked off September 2015 – the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE-UK) and the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). Taking place in Cambridge and Exeter respectively, these events both featured streams focusing on narrative as a way of understanding everyday energy use. At the ASLE conference, this was organised by the Stories of Change project. Chris Groves spoke at both conferences on recent papers from Energy Biographies that discuss the role that attachment and emotional investment in unsustainable practices can play in preventing change, and on how dominant policy understandings of behaviour change can clash with the stories people use to understand the lifecourse transitions they have undergone.

Living the "Good Life"?: energy biographies, identities and competing normative frameworks from energybiographies

Energy biographies: narrative genres, lifecourse transitions and practice change from energybiographies

Energy Biographies at the EcoBro Green Shoots Fair 2015

by Erin Roberts

EcoBro is an organisation based in Penrhyndeudraeth, North Wales, whose aim is to promote sustainability among local communities. As part of their activities, they hold an annual fair featuring a seed swap as well as information on sustainable transport, renewable energy, recycling and local crafts, and what grants are available locally for sustainable projects. This year, PhD student Erin Roberts was invited to set up a stall on the Energy Biographies project, using materials from our recent exhibition.
In conversation, a number of attendees shared their ‘energy stories’ with Erin.

Slide2‘I have a solid fuel range stove at home, but I don’t have central heating. My range is like an old friend- I even talk to it! I guess I’m quite sentimental! I like that i’m in control of what I put into it- of how much I burn- but I don’t like burning coal. I’ve been putting off contacting the NEST scheme for three years! Some friends of mine have had a big stove installed with NEST – £8,000 worth of central heating and everything- but they would never be able to run it if they weren’t getting free wood from a local business. It seems that they just went for the extravagant option without considering what my friends could afford! So my dilemma is that I don’t trust the scheme and I’m quite sentimental- I like the interaction that comes with the stove, and while that’s not a justification for having one, it is a consideration for keeping it. I could live without it but I would miss it. But it isn’t good, in an
environmental sense, to burn coal – it is a thing of the past and it’s expensive! Im not happy burning it, but what do i replace it with? What I need is a more environmentally sound manageable system!” – Terry

“I’ve been struggling to find out what is a reasonable temperature, because I have quite an old cat, and she hasn’t been well at all. It’s really hard to find out what a reasonable temperature is, I’ve been checking different websites online to see what the recommended temperature is but I get so confused by the different advice! ” – John

Slide1“I was 16 when I turned vegetarian. I had read the “teenage vegetarian survival guide”… So that was the first thing that I did to take control of my own impact on the environment. It was an uphill struggle coming from a family of meat eaters! I also used a lot of public transport all my life. I didn’t learn to drive straight away and so took the bus and train everywhere – even with the little ones in tow. I have a car now, because you have to have a car here – it’s a consequence of where I live in this case. As a result of that you get lazier – you take unnecessary journeys in the car just because it’s convenient. I find I’m getting lazy but I do still use public transport for long distance journeys – but it’s just so expensive, and that’s the crux of the matter – unless these things become cheaper – ordinary people will think being eco friendly is a thing for those who can afford it, which makes me angry. I find I have to make compromises – it’s a matter of ideals vs. capability – especially because now that I have a family It’s much harder than when I was single to live up to my ideals.” – Sara

“I heard a story about a family that manage to live off a single cow! One cow! They use the manure to power their house you see, and cows can live for up to thirty years, so it’s
quite sustainable isn’t it? I think that’s brilliant!” – Eifiona

Encounters with Energy at Cardiff Philosophy Cafe

by Chris Groves, 15 November 2014

How much energy we use, like how much and what kinds of food we eat, is an issue that has taken on, more and more, the characteristics of an intense moral debate. We are told again and again by policymakers to take responsibility for our energy consumption, just as we are for our intake of saturated fat and sugar. But we face all kinds of conflicting advice about how best to respond to the challenge of using less energy or eating more healthily. In this Cafe, Dr Chris Groves from the Cardiff University Energy Biographies project outlined results of research on some of the unexpected ways in which our social environment constrains our choices and makes it difficult to heed such imperatives. For more details, see the Cardiff Philosophy Cafe blog