Energy system studies with social and interdisciplinary perspectives

In order to achieve the transition to sustainable energy systems including reduced climate emissions, we need knowledge and expertise that can contribute to better understanding of the complex intertwining with disagreements and conflicts between actors, technical solutions, and institutions like societal values, laws and policy included in the energy sector and other societal sectors.

Research about energy issues and socio-technical energy systems is concerned with the interaction and connections of people and organisations, institutions like societal and political organisations and values and laws, and technology including infrastructural systems. The research is often aimed at increasing understanding of complex dynamics between people and technology in the energy systems, and at acquiring synergies and identify conflicts between actors. With a diversity of scientific and societal perspectives and issues on energy and climate issues this aims to provide new knowledge, give new insights and open up for new alternatives to transform the energy systems to better meet the energy and climate targets including the resource constraints society faces. This will also provide a better decision‑making basis for those involved in the making of energy related issues and decisions affecting different energy systems, regardless of whether they are politicians, companies, organisations or households.

Man and technical systems affect each other

Both technology and social sciences use the term 'system'. Studying 'energy as a system' means different things, depending on the working area and views of those carrying out the study. For the Swedish Energy Agency, the energy systems studies thematic area includes societal and technical system analysis. This includes sociological and political-oriented system studies which are of decisive importance for such purposes as the drafting of policy measures, climate policy or the forming of future visions of the energy system. For example, this investigation the actions including the activities and behavior of individuals or organisations, viewed from such perspectives as anthropology, sociology, science and technology studies, political science, behavioral sciences, innovation studies and economics. Energy systems studies are often interdisciplinary or multi-disciplinary and strive to include a diversity of scientific and societal perspectives on studies of energy issues and systems where climate issues have a close connection to studies of energy systems.

The basis for this system perspective is that all technology can be seen as closely or loosely linked parts that create a whole. Technically, an energy system can be defined as consisting of a number of sub-systems, such as a district heating production plant with associated distribution network, or by geographical boundaries such as local authority or national electricity grids. But these technical systems are owned, controlled, developed, operated and used by many parties and organisations, all of whom affect the various systems and who can be regarded as parts of them.

Energy systems and those involved in or with them are also affected by taxation, legislation, regulations and events in the wider world. Most of these factors also have mutual effects upon each other. It is therefore not sufficient to look for one answer to a question at a time, as this fails to consider the underlying understanding of the relationships within the whole. If questions are, instead, put from a system perspective, it should be possible to build up a multi-faceted view of the energy system's function, and to develop conditions intended to work towards sustainable energy systems. An important element of the work in this thematic area is that it is individuals who construct and build the technical systems, while the technical systems in their turn affect society, organisations and individuals.