Opportunities, Barriers, Policy and Practice
Edited by Shane Fudge, Michael Peters, Steven M. Hoffman and Walter Wehrmeyer
Chapter 2: Peak electricity demand and social practice theories: reframing the role of change agents in the energy sector
Peak electricity demand is a pressing international energy policy concern, causing widespread blackouts and increasing the cost of electricity for all consumers. In Australia alone, billions of dollars in investment are being used to upgrade electricity distribution and transmission infrastructure, and build generation plants to provide power during periods of peak demand. Despite these efforts (and in some cases because of them), there are growing concerns about the frequency of blackouts, particularly on hot summer days when residential air-conditioning demand adds disproportionately to peak loads (Wilkenfeld, 2004). Consequently, a range of demand management strategies have emerged, such as time-of-use pricing and consumption feedback, to educate and incentivize consumers to shift or reduce peak demand. The primary purpose of this conceptual chapter is not to contribute towards existing debates about where demand management programmes and peak electricity investment would be best targeted, but rather to reframe the issue entirely. The focus is on how the ‘problem’ of peak electricity demand and the demand management ‘solutions’ it generates emerge from a particular construction of reality that places humans and their minds at the forefront of social order. This humanist perspective continues to dominate into the twenty-first century (Schatzki, 2001), and is the foundation for the production of knowledge, policy and programmes intended to achieve social and environmental transformation in an era of climate change and resource uncertainty (Shove, 2010).
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