This book examines the visions, fantasies, frames, discourses, imaginaries, and expectations associated with six state-of-the-art energy systems—nuclear power, hydrogen fuel cells, shale gas, clean coal, smart meters, and electric vehicles—playing a key role in current deliberations about low-carbon energy supply and use.
Visions of Energy Futures: Imagining and Innovating Low-Carbon Transitions unveils what the future of energy systems could look like, and how their meanings are produced, often alongside moments of contestation. Theoretically, it analyzes these technological case studies with emerging concepts from various disciplines: utopianism (history of technology), symbolic convergence (communication studies), technological frames (social construction of technology), discursive coalitions (discourse analysis and linguistics), sociotechnical imaginaries (science and technology studies), and the sociology of expectations (innovation studies, future studies). It draws from these cases to create a synthetic set of dichotomies and frameworks for energy futures based on original data collected across two global epistemic communities— nuclear physicists and hydrogen engineers—and experts in Eastern Europe and the Nordic region, stakeholders in South Africa, and newspapers in the United Kingdom. This book is motivated by the premise that tackling climate change via low-carbon energy systems and practices is one of the most significant challenges of the twenty-first century, and that success will require not only new energy technologies, but also new ways of understanding language, visions, and discursive politics. The discursive creation of the energy systems of tomorrow are propagated in polity, hoping to be realized as the material fact of the future, but processed in conflicting ways with underlying tensions as to how contemporary societies ought to be ordered.
This book will be essential reading for students and scholars of energy policy, energy and environment, and technology assessment.
Table of Contents
- Introduction: Visions and futures in the study of low-carbon energy systems
- Technological utopianism: Small modular reactors and the physics community
- Symbolic convergence: Hydrogen fuel cells and the engineering community
- Technological frames: The interpretive flexibility of shale gas in Eastern Europe
- Discursive coalitions: Contesting clean coal in South Africa
- Sociotechnical imaginaries: Smart meters and the public in the United Kingdom
- Expectations: Electric mobility and experts in the Nordic region
- Conclusion: Dimensions, dichotomies and frameworks for energy futures
List of Figures
List of Tables
About the Author
Benjamin K. Sovacool is Professor of Energy Policy at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the School of Business, Management, and Economics, University of Sussex, UK. He is also Professor of Business & Social Sciences at Aarhus University in Denmark, where he also directs the Centre on Energy Technologies.
"Visions, imaginaries, and fictional expectations are central for an understanding of our energy futures, determining what is desirable and undesirable, achievable or impossible. Energy visions should feature centrally in our research and policy mixes, and I welcome Visions of Energy Futures for ambitiously pushing such an agenda forward." -- Maarten Hajer, Professor of Urban Futures, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
"Visions, discourses and framings of low-carbon innovations shape meanings and legitimacy that, in turn, influence support from various actors, including policymakers and funders. Contributing to debates about the performative roles of visions, Benjamin Sovacool’s new book draws important lessons from six case studies across various countries and domains, which illuminate how future energy systems are affected by discursive struggles at present. Important reading for students and scholars alike." -- Frank Geels, Professor of System Innovation, University of Manchester, UK
"Technology is rooted in the future. Hence, the development and use of low-carbon energy systems requires fundamental changes in how the future is imagined. Benjamin Sovacool elegantly explores and explains how imaginations of the future could feed, guide and inspire technological innovations in six state-of-the-art energy systems. This book provides an important and timely contribution to the quest of energy transitions." -- Harro van Lente, Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Maastricht University, The Netherlands