ROLES


Title                           Responsive Organising for Low Emission Societies

Lead PI                      Dr Siddharth Sareen, University of Bergen, Norway

Partner PI                  Prof Håvard Haarstad, University of Bergen, Norway
                                   Mrs Amber Nordholm University of Bergen Norway
                                   Dr Nives DellaValle Eurac Research Italy
                                   Dr Sonja Gantioler Eurac Research Italy
                                   Prof Benjamin Sovacool University of Sussex United Kingdom
                                   Dr Marie Claire Brisbois University of Sussex United Kingdom
                                   Prof Adrian Smith University of Sussex United Kingdom
                                   Mr Ed Dearnley University of Sussex United Kingdom
                                   Dr Laurence Williams University of Sussex United Kingdom

Funding Agencies    RCN (Norway), MIUR (Italy), UKRI (UK)

Project website

Picture credits: Marie-Pascale Gafinen

Abstract

Digitalisation of energy infrastructure – a transition to digital information flows in socio-technical energy systems – can enhance efficient, affordable energy use. It can enable electric mobility, smart charging, renewable energy integration and energy monitoring for low-carbon energy systems. But it poses risks to data protection and privacy, and to social trust between citizens, governments and businesses for democratic environmental governance. ROLES analyses how ongoing digitalisation of energy infrastructure in mid-sized
European cityregions (population 100,000-300,000) intends to accelerate the decarbonisation of energy systems, and how this can be reformed to generate widespread societal benefits. It identifies pathways to Digitalise for Deep Decarbonisation (DDD): digitalise to radically decarbonise systems in socially just ways. Despite citizen concern about our climate emergency, such DDD pathways face multiple structural constraints. Failure to address them is feeding a crisis of social accountability in climate governance. The accountability problem is pronounced in digitalising energy infrastructure due to characteristics that exacerbate social exclusion (the digital divide) and exploit extractive use of data (digital surveillance). This particularly affects vulnerable publics who demand climate action but lack political and economic power. E.g., systemic gains from smart meters and electric vehicles may benefit suppliers but not flow to energy poor users. Yet, citizenoriented policies can ensure inclusive data use so that digitalisation yields public benefits like affordable, lowcarbon mobility and energy use. Using three cases, ROLES aims to anticipate these accountability crises and develop customisable strategies for more responsive organising of citizen agency in the digitalisation of energy in city-regions.

Phase I identifies climate-friendly and pro-poor pathways to digitalise energy infrastructure for electric mobility hubs in Bergen, solar energy neighbourhoods in Brighton, and smart energy monitoring in Trento. Using expert interviews (n=3*30) with government, business, civil society, and marginalised groups, and multi-sited structured interviews with laypersons (n=3*30), it co-produces in-depth knowledge about digitalisation needs  and initiatives in each city-region. This includes policy mixes and citizens’ modes of engagement and coping strategies during digitalisation of three different energy infrastructures. To identify DDD pathways, ROLES will catalogue how diverse stakeholders lobby, act, react, debate and manage, in relation to sectoral digitalisation policies.

Phase II identifies constraining and enabling conditions for rapid diffusion of the identified DDD pathways. To understand what institutional factors shape these pathways, ROLES will involve multi-stakeholders at regional public events to deliberate on how to accelerate DDD. We will use power cube analysis to identify political economic power dynamics for each pathway. This is an established technique for coproducing knowledge on both formal and informal workings of power with stakeholder groups in interactive, hands-on ways. It facilitates collaboration and can work at various levels of abstraction.

Phase III delivers a stakeholder toolkit and scientific outputs on responsive organising to accelerate DDD pathways for diverse energy systems. Responsive organising constitutes customised strategies to channel citizen agency into diffusing policies and actions that enable DDD pathways. Scientific outputs will discuss these dynamics in and across sectoral cases and city-regions. Jointly, these outputs will constitute actionable knowledge that (i) demonstrates how to identify climate-friendly and pro-poor pathways to digitalise energy systems, and (ii) co-produces strategies for how to make concrete advances towards electric mobility hubs, solar energy neighbourhoods and smart energy monitoring in mid-sized European city-regions.