Emerging networks of power: Exploring sociotechnical pathways towards future electricity systems based on renewable energy technologies
Doktorsavhandling, 2020

In the effort to fight climate change, electricity systems around the world are undergoing a transition from fossil-fuelled to renewable energy-based production of electricity. The transition can, however, be attained in several radically different ways, ranging from global or continental super-grids, via local smart-grids, to self-sufficient off-grid communities and households of electricity prosumers. How the transition will unfold and what the eventual system will look like remains uncertain. By shifting focus away from simply increasing the share of renewable energy production to the specific configurations of renewables, we can better navigate the complex technological landscape, better target investment, and help inform the governments, businesses, and citizens that are shaping the future of the electricity system.

This thesis aims to study the emergence of alternative electricity system configurations that could satisfy the criterion of one hundred per cent renewables globally. Positioned in the broader innovation and sustainability transitions literature that share the sociotechnical systems perspective on technological change, the thesis improves the existing knowledge about two main aspects of the electricity system transition: 1) alternative electricity system end states, and 2) the dynamics of the transition towards them.

The research presented in this thesis contributes to the literature by constructing a ‘design space’ of clearly distinguishable electricity system alternatives, i.e. the Super-grid, Smart-grid, and Off-grid systems, that can be monitored in the form of structural components currently emerging and accumulating. The monitoring reveals that all three alternatives have gained notable momentum over the last 15 years and that the alternative configurations are not exclusive to the electricity sector but are also linked to and borrow components from other sectors, discourses, and societal trends.

The design space of alternative futures also guides the case study selection of two contrasting configurations for an electricity system powered by renewables: the global high-voltage transmission Super-grid and Smart-grid experiments in the shape of local blockchain-based peer-to-peer trading in Australia and the US. The in-depth case studies provide findings about drivers of and barriers for alternative electricity system configurations, as well as conceptual contributions to ongoing debates in the innovation and sustainability transitions literature relating to system definition, maps of alternative futures, the agency of actors supporting new technologies, the role of context, and the encounter between the novel system and established structures.

By thinking about possibilities and understanding what it takes to get there, this thesis improves the existing knowledge by providing a deep understanding of the activities and roles of different system builders, strategies of momentum building, and macro-level trends that together influence the direction of change. This thesis challenges myopic and siloed thinking about the future of the electricity system and calls for collective action in addressing the transition-related unknowns and trade-offs. For practitioners and policymakers, the design space of alternative futures and the empirical findings can guide communication and negotiation on the complex path towards a low-carbon electricity future.

Multilevel Perspective

entrepreneurs

Technological Innovation System

context

incumbents

sociotechnical systems perspective

energy users

renewable energy

transition pathways

electricity system

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Opponent: Simona Negro, Associate Professor at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University

Författare

Kristina Hojcková

Chalmers, Teknikens ekonomi och organisation, Miljösystemanalys

Hojckova, K. (2020). The challenge of peer-to-peer electricity trading pilots: Review of innovation systemic problems in the US and Australia. Manuscript submitted to Energies’ special issue on Smart Local Energy Systems.

Hojckova, K., Ahlborg, H., & Sandén, B. (2020). Building a global Super-grid: A sociotechnical analysis. Manuscript submitted to Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews.

Andersson, J., Hojckova, K., & Sandén, B. (2020). Clarifying the focus and improving the rigour of sustainability transitions research on emerging technologies. IST 2020 Conference paper.

Nya krafter, nya nätverk: om framväxt, spridning och konsekvenser av alternativa elsystemarkitekturer

Energimyndigheten, 2015-01-01 -- 2018-12-31.

Styrkeområden

Energi

Ämneskategorier

Annan samhällsvetenskap

ISBN

978-91-7905-397-0

Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola. Ny serie: 4864

Utgivare

Chalmers tekniska högskola

Zoom

Online

Opponent: Simona Negro, Associate Professor at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University

Mer information

Senast uppdaterat

2020-11-05