First steps towards a deeper understanding of energy efficiency impacts in the age of systems

Panel: 8. Dynamics of consumption

This is a peer-reviewed paper.

Nicola Labanca, Institute for Energy and Transport - Joint Research Centre, Italy
Bertoldi Paolo, JRC-IET, Italy


So far technologies have been mostly conceived as silver bullets entering seamlessly into everyday life without any subsidiary effect on other technologies and in general on ideas and practices. One of the consequences of this mindset is that energy analyses are typically performed by assessing the energy impact of single energy end-use technologies during their lifecycle without paying much attention to the effects of their interactions with other technologies and with the daily practices they are embedded in. Such an approach may lead to wrong estimates of technologies overall energy impact and often it does not allow identifying those cases in which energy efficiency improvements (EEI) boost higher energy consumption. This is particularly the case in the present historical situation when most of our daily activities rely on the employment of an increasing number of different devices consuming commercial energy and when all these devices end up with becoming a system whose overall energy performances depends more on how all its energy using components interact than on the energy efficiency of each component. This paper aims to provide a series of insights concerning EEI impacts based on practice theory, actor-network-theory and complex adaptive systems theory whereby technologies are viewed both as elements of daily practices and nodes of a network of technologies interconnected by these practices (e.g. refrigerators are viewed as part of practices related to eating, drinking, cooking, shopping, and as such linked by these practices to technologies used for food preparation, food conservation, food transportation, etc.). Besides presenting a different perspective to analyse EEI impacts, this paper illustrates the epistemological implications of considering technologies as part of larger systems and explains how the approach proposed may allow identifying important drivers of energy consumption.


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