Constructing seasonality: implications for the renewable energy sector

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Sociology

Abstract

This project will provide new understanding and insight into the balancing of energy supply and
demand. It focuses on seasonal variation in daily life and on the nature-society interface as this
affects the renewable energy sector and carbon reduction.
National energy systems are conventionally designed to 'keep the lights on' at all times. Making greater
use of renewable and therefore intermittent forms of supply challenges this paradigm and raises new
questions about the social and temporal organisation of energy demand. It does so because there are
often imbalances in the timing of renewable energy supply (typically plentiful in the summer) and
demand (typically greater in the winter). Developing the market for renewable energy consequently
depends on a more precise and also more subtle understanding of how patterns of demand change
through the year.
In general terms, we know that the timing of energy demand is tied to the temporal and seasonal
organisation of everyday life. The questions around which this project is organised go further: how do
social practices vary and persist across the year; what patterns of consumption do these practices
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engender and how do these, in turn, define and shape renewable energy markets, emerging
technologies, and related infrastructures?
Tackling these questions calls for a novel combination of science and technology studies and the
sociology of time and practice. In detail, the project extends and draws on relevant concepts from STS,
including the social organisation of markets and commodification (e.g. MacKenzie and Millo 2003) and
the role that 'users' play in infrastructural innovation (e.g. Hyysalo et al. 2016, Rohracher and Späth
2014, Shove and Trentmann 2018). It is the connection between these intellectual resources and
accounts of social-institutional rhythms (Zerubavel 1981, Blue 2017), ordinary consumption (Warde
2005) and social practice (Hui et al. 2016, Schatzki 2010), that informs my research design and my
approach to two related research questions:
a) Seasonal habits
How do domestic activities and practices vary across natural and social seasons (e.g. holidays) and with
what consequence for the timing of electricity demand?
b) Seasonality within the renewable energy sector: products, tariffs and infrastructures
How do renewable energy 'products' and tariffs and proposed technologies (of storage; of new
infrastructure) relate to patterns and variations in social practice and therefore energy demand?

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000665/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2202870 Studentship ES/P000665/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2022 Michael Greenhough