Constructing a low-carbon future together

construction

A supply-side perspective for the delivery of high-performing, low-energy non-domestic buildings

As part of a series of missions introduced to deliver its Industrial Strategy, the Government announced its commitment to halve the energy use of all new buildings by 2030. This commitment is a first step in the right direction, if the UK is to meet its Climate Change targets.

To progress beyond this though, we clearly need a robust policy framework to fill the prevailing vacuum. Such a framework would set clear direction and establish large-scale demand for low-energy/low-carbon buildings. Read more ›

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Privilege, techno-optimism and changing the world

Some thoughts by Noam Bergman on EASST 2018

The EASST conference is the European biannual conference on science and technology studies (STS) – the study of how society, politics, and culture affect scientific research and technological innovation, and how these, in turn, affect society. It is a good place to hear a variety of interesting and unexpected viewpoints, and 2018 was no exception.

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One of the first talks I heard was by Jonnet Middleton. Far from a usual conference presentation, this was an autobiographical story dappled with social science; it was one of those unusual talks that makes you glad you came along. As a PhD student, Jonnet wanted to engage in the act of mending, pledging not to buy any new clothes and wanting to fix things herself. She visited, and later settled down, in Cuba, eschewing first world privileges for a significantly more precarious life with limited infrastructure and safety nets. She’s shed many of our common Western habits as well, explaining she’s been online for 24 hours… in the last year. This was her first paper and public speaking event in several years, and might be her last, as she does not intend to stay in academia. Almost too inspiring!

That was one of many discussions around the roles of research and researcher, both in and out of conference sessions. I was taken aback by one particular comment. Alena Israel presented a paper about a local and (temporarily) successful struggle against hydropower dams on the River Marañón in Peru. A discussant said there were many studies of hydropower plants being built, with similar economic and political analysis, and this was not interesting. He insisted the interesting thing was what you did with it, specifically how you advanced the relevant theories. This is a standard social science approach, requiring novelty in theory, not just a good case study, but to me it misses the point. Hydropower plants have become increasingly controversial. Is destroying part of natural Amazonia worth the carbon emissions it saves? Would the power produced help local populations, or the Brazilian mining industry? Important, substantial questions. The case study is interesting in itself, while I find furthering theory for its own sake meaningless: I don’t research sustainability to advance theory, I do it to advance sustainability.

Technology, research and activism

There were also many discussions around technology, from the humble smart meter to global geoengineering. I was especially interested in the question of smart technology and what it has to offer. Can we move from techno-economic, top-down drivers of smart cities, to bottom-up, people-centred models? I would have said no, but I was impressed by Gregory Trencher’s talk on how the smart city narrative inspired people in a small Japanese city to tackle endogenous social challenges developing their own techie initiatives. I continue to doubt that smart homes will give us convenience and comfort, which are elusive, moving targets defined by consumerism; and even the hype about energy savings has been questioned.

I came to the conclusion that I am not so much techno-sceptic as I am an ‘anti-techno-optimist’. There is an underlying assumption in public discourse – and sometimes in research – that technological development (i.e. ‘progress’) is inevitable, benign, and the key to solving all our problems. The techno-optimism shone through strongly in quite a few presentations, although questions and private conversations with their authors revealed that actually, many shared my ‘anti-techno-optimism’ approach – that just wasn’t the question they were researching, or they had neglected to mention that this was going to be compared to less ‘smart’ methods. But these things need to be said, these narratives challenged.

divestment

Image by Joe Brusky (CC BY-NC 2.0)

At the opposite end of the sustainability spectrum, my own paper was a study on the fossil fuel divestment movement and its impacts. I enjoy researching activism when I get the chance, although it takes me back to a familiar dilemma. We are facing the slow unfolding of environmental catastrophe, of which climate change is the greatest symptom, but not the disease; it is the fever that could kill the patient. Is my research, in fact, advancing sustainability, or merely advancing that amorphous knowledge base that academia treasures? If I want to promote sustainability, to play a small part in reversing or slowing this trend, is academic research the best route? Or is it better to invest more in activism, opposing destruction while building alternative communities and systems?

 

 

 

Dr Noam Bergman is a Research Fellow at the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand (CIED) at the University of Sussex.

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Warm Homes for All: how do we speed up the uptake of retrofits?

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Highlights from CIED/ACE roundtable event by Nora Blascsok

Making our homes as comfortable and aesthetically pleasing as possible is an aspiration of many.  However, not enough people realise that measures to make their homes more energy efficient can also deliver these outcomes. How do we make sure people know about this and care? What is the role of government in helping those who can’t afford to make these improvements and are struggling to pay their energy bills due to the inefficient, old building stock they live in?

These were some of the questions discussed at a roundtable event on ‘Warm Homes for All:  Can a mix of integrated business models, flexible finance and community intermediaries close the policy gap?, hosted by the Association for the Conservation of Energy (ACE) on 25th June in London. The main purpose of the event was to discuss the policy recommendations of the new Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand (CIED) report ‘Warm Homes for All’. Read more ›

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Innovating Climate Governance: moving beyond experiments

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Highlights from the book launch by Nora Blascsok

In April 2016, the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) and the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand (CIED) hosted a workshop titled ‘“Beyond experiments: Understanding how climate governance innovations become embedded”. The workshop, which I had helped organise, brought together 20 researchers from eight countries to discuss how experiments in climate governance impact society and how they can become embedded.

Almost exactly two years later, I got to hold the physical outcome of this workshop in my hands: a new book, edited by Bruno Turnheim, Paula Kivimaa and Frans Berkhout titled ‘Innovating Climate Governance: Moving Beyond Experiments”.

On 3 May 2018, people gathered to celebrate the launch of this book at Kings College London (KCL) on the 8th floor of Bush House, with a view of the sun setting over the city.

 

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The book editors: Frans Berkhout, Bruno Turnheim, Paula Kivimaa

The event was introduced and chaired by Frans Berkhout, one of the book’s editors and Dean of the Faculty of Social Science and Public Policy at KCL, with presentations from the two other editors Bruno Turnheim and Paula Kivimaa, chapter contributor Helen Pallett (University of East Anglia) and guest speaker, Fred Steward (University of Westminster).

On my way to the book launch, I was thinking about experiments. The first thing that came to my mind was scientific experiments, typically used in testing out theories. However, an experiment can also mean much more than this. It can mean trying out something novel and building on the things we have learnt from it when going forward. We can see this kind of experimentation in today’s cities, trying out new, more sustainable ways of living, working, growing food or travelling for example. These experiments can often produce unexpected outcomes.

Bruno Turnheim, who introduced the context and the motivations behind the book, emphasised the emergence of local climate action, grassroots initiatives and living labs – with a growing interest in local initiatives around the world, following the Paris agreement.

The book looks at the concept of climate governance experiments from a policy context, not only as a research problem. It asks some important questions around whether experimentation is a legitimate new form of intervention, can it be effective and whether those regarding it as panacea are overly enthusiastic.

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Bruno Turnheim

Dr Turnheim also highlighted the way in which, this book brings together different research disciplines and creates a dialogue, particularly between innovation and governance studies. Governance studies often address experiments in a top-down, orchestrated manner, and emphasise their increasing relevance with the failure of transnational climate action. Innovation studies, on the other hand, often describe experimentation as a messy and highly contested process. The main question they ask is how we embed experimentation in practice. This is also a key question the book tries to answer.

SPRU’s Paula Kivimaa took the stage next to present the conclusions of the book. She outlined the ways in which we can move beyond individual experiments and what the potential outcomes can be. According to her, experiments do not only lead to learning but this learning can serve as a template for future projects. In some cases, experiments can achieve systemic and transformative change, overturning regimes and leading to political change. However, she emphasised, that for experiments to have this broader influence, we need resources dedicated to experimentation and a specific framework for experimenting, including evaluation of the aggregated impacts of multiple experiments.

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Paula Kivimaa

This book offers more than fifty empirical cases across different parts of the world, examining climate governance experiments in different contexts. One of the contributors, Dr Helen Pallett from the University of East Anglia, took the stage next, highlighting the role of citizen engagement and public dialogues in climate governance.

She pointed out that low carbon transition demands new ways of engaging with people and that we need to be experimenting in the face of new challenges. She concluded that the book offers an important contribution because it allows us to focus on the bigger picture rather than single cases, which helps to identify the connections, synergies and conflicts between the different experiences of experimentation.

Finally, Professor Fred Steward was invited to give his feedback on the book. He concluded that Innovating Climate Governance is an ambitious book mapping out what the concept of climate governance experiments means but also going beyond that. He highlighted the fact that climate goals are global, yet the means of achieving them have to focus on the local level.

I have certainly learnt a lot and was left with some big questions. How can we encourage local experimentation without making it a process imposed from the top-down? What are the ways in which we can best engage citizens in climate change? How do we connect people across the world working on these experiments and how do we measure their impact?

It is certainly a topic that stimulates a lot of debate. I hope that it will lead to meaningful action as well.

 

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Solar stories: prosuming and energy resilience

The Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand (CIED) Communications Team crossed the train tracks to attend a talk at the University of Brighton Falmer campus hosted by Boingboing, an organisation providing opportunities to learn about resilience. This time their Resilience Forum featured a speaker from SPRU, Dr Nicolette Allen, who was invited to talk about energy resilience. Read more ›

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The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent Sussex Energy Group.

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