Stavanger 2021 – Digitisation and Energy

EAN’s biannual workshop was hosted in August 2021 by the University of Stavanger. It convened academics researching energy transitions and digitisation from a host of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives. Transgressing disciplinary boundaries proved both challenging and fruitful, as discussing and internally peer-reviewing the featured contributions unearthed different methodological approaches (from field research to digital anthropology and from interviews to desk-based analyses), varying writing conventions (e.g., thick description or the use of illustrative examples), and the diverse canons that researchers draw upon (i.e., vantage points or theoretical approaches well-established in one discipline but novel in another).

Combining this disciplinary diversity with the wide-ranging study focus areas through a hybrid workshop provided the requisite forum to actually dig deeper into what various fields might take for granted. Convening scholars with a substantive basis in either energy or digitisation through a workshop centred on the entanglement of these phenomena enabled us to render terms and concepts more precisely in order to communicate across disciplines and established fields of study. The workshop thus provided not only the platform for a fruitful discussion, but led us to publishing a book with the revised contributions. “Digitisation and low-carbon energy transitions” will be out soon with Palgrave Macmillan. This book not only functions to compile the range of synergistic knowledge, but also carves out common ground in order to articulate the beginnings of a research agenda for critically engaged ethnography of digitisation and low-carbon energy transitions.

A key component of the workshop was an accompanying research-based and co-produced art exhibition by the Rjukan Solarpunk Academy on just low-carbon mobility transitions, launched during the workshop and displayed at the Norwegian Petroleum Museum throughout autumn 2021. Images from this exhibition are interspersed with the book chapters.


Digitisation and low-carbon energy transitions

As the world faces the challenge to transition to low-carbon energy futures, digitisation becomes a key issue: decarbonising energy requires the digital process control of energy production, transmission and end use. Diversified electrification across sectors requires real-time digital coordination of distributed energy production, with increasing numbers and types of power plants and enhanced spatial-temporal complexity. To manage energy demand and raise energy efficiency, digital devices can help recursively modulate energy and societal rhythms to facilitate rapid decarbonisation of complex, intertwined systems. At the same time, a low-carbon energy transition that requires electrification and digitisation is accompanied by the risk of significant increases in energy demand, perhaps only partly compensated through energy efficiency gains.

Might the digitisation of renewable energy backfire on envisioned energy transitions? Who digitises energy infrastructure, and what drives decision-making? How does this impact the justice effects of low-carbon energy transitions? In what ways does digitisation intertwine with changes in the lived experience of human interactions with evolving energy systems? What do we gain and lose as we move from fossil fuel dominated infrastructures to hybrid digitised ones, from coal mining to data mining?

This workshop problematizes the emergent inter-linkages of digitisation and energy. We invite engaged energy anthropologists and other interdisciplinary counterparts from geography, science and technology studies and political ecology into a critically constructive forum to discuss digitisation in low-carbon energy transitions.

The Energy Anthropology Network is pleased to hold this workshop at the University of Stavanger during 23-24 August 2021, before the Petrocultures 2021 conference scheduled for 25-27 August 2021 at the Norwegian Petroleum Museum.

We happily welcome as keynote speakers, on 23rd August, Sarah Pink and Yolande Strengers from Monash University, talking on Digital Energy Futures, and on 24th August, Thomas Birtchnell, Theresa Harada and Gordon Waitt from University of Wollongong, talking about Mobility Justice and Transitions to Urban Electric Vehicles.

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