How infrastructures and consumers interact: insights from the interface

Panel: 9. Dynamics of consumption

This is a peer-reviewed paper.

Authors:
Catherine Grandclement, EDF R&D, France
Magali Pierre, EDF R&D, France
Elizabeth Shove, University of Lancaster - DEMAND Center, United Kingdom

Abstract

This paper is concerned with the process through which energy consumption is “infrastructuralized” into stabilized layers of road networks, buildings and appliances. By “infrastructuralization” of energy consumption, we mean that it is possible to consider that our homes, cars, computers, phones and stoves form part of an infrastructure of consumption linked to systems of production and transportation. As this infrastructure of consumption stabilizes over time, certain levels of consumption get “locked-in”. Energy consumption is embedded into layers of equipment and into the practices they support, constituting an ensemble that is difficult to remove once it is put in place. We postulate that the influence of this infrastructuralization process on energy consumption is not recognized as such because parts of this system, e.g. appliances, are often provided through markets. Markets are often seen as depoliticized worlds where choices are exerted by an individual (“the consumer”) and guided by “objective” and non-controversial criteria such as price, product characteristics and consumer preferences. But are markets such depoliticized worlds? This is what we will discuss in this paper through an examination of how certain things are left to consumer choice depending on how markets are actively constructed and how the infrastructure/appliance boundary is configured. We will use examples from the current development of electric vehicles and their network of charging stations, from the development of smart meters and smart thermostats and from the regulation of the use of infrastructure through “demand side management” measures. In each case we will reflect on the distribution of responsibility and agency that goes alongside these divisions between infrastructures and appliances with a special emphasis on how practices affect and get affected by these divisions. Our aim in this paper is to offer a conceptual move towards replacing markets into larger processes through which energy consumption and practices get infrastructuralized.

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