How to Deal with Value Change in Energy Systems?
Energy systems are sociotechnical systems; they are typically not designed by one designer and evolve over time. Still they are shaped by values and sociotechnical visions. Many of our current energy systems were designed at a time when sustainability was a less important value than currently. In many countries, the need for an energy transition to more sustainable energy systems is felt. It is obvious that the energy transition is a technical and economic transition, but it also requires changes in institutions and values.
Various kinds of energy systems have been studied from the perspective of value sensitive design, including offshore energy parks, smart grids, nuclear energy, shale gas and biofuels. These and other studies have revealed a large range of values that play a role, or should play a role in the design of energy systems including energy efficiency; sustainability and other environmental values; security and reliability; social justice and fairness; autonomy and power; safety; privacy, aesthetics and landscape embedding. Although these studies suggest that values are changing over time, the topic of value change and how to address it in the technical and institutional design of energy systems has not yet been systematically addressed.
Addressing value change is particularly important for the case of energy systems because these systems have large technological and institutional momentum, while they are often socially contested. The technological and institutional momentum implies that these systems are often hard to change; technical infrastructures are usually built for decades; and also institutional rules cannot be changed overnight. This makes it more difficult and costly to deal with value change.
At the same time, the socially contested character of many energy technologies makes it not only crucial to properly address values for the ethical acceptability and social acceptance of these systems, but makes it also likely that new values will emerge in public debates about energy technologies. So while value change may be endemic in energy systems, these systems at the same time have characteristics that make it harder to deal with such value change.
Joost Alleblas, M.Sc.
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