Keywords: comfort, energy consumption, energy demand, energy systems, social practices, sustainable provision, systematic, transition, energy policy, socio-technical interdependencies, sustainable energy, sustainability, systems thinking, energy management, demand management, UK, United Kingdom
Systematically sustainable provision? The premises and promises of 'joined-up' energy demand management
Energy policy commonly focuses on improving end-user efficiencies and transforming individual behaviour. The need for more 'systematic' policy approaches based on an understanding of complex socio-technical interdependencies between consumers and providers is increasingly acknowledged as a prerequisite for sustainable transitions in the energy sector. The aim of this paper is to examine different system-based approaches, as defined by social and environmental scientists, and consider how they conceptualise socio-technical interdependencies and dynamics of energy systems. Four modes of system-based thinking (human-ecological systems, systems of provision, Large Technical Systems (LTS) and systems of practice) are reviewed. The conceptual and analytical value of each 'systems' approach is subsequently re-examined by drawing on examples of current energy organisation, provision and practice in the UK. This reveals real life complexities of systems, settings and scales in which energy problems are embedded. Having addressed fundamental questions of what systematic energy management can mean, in theory and practice, further implications for the formulation of more 'joined-up' strategies of demand management are assessed.