Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Domestication Pathways of Small-Scale Renewable Energy Technologies

Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Domestication Pathways of Small-Scale Renewable Energy Technologies

Article excerpt

Keyword: renewable energy resources, energy consumption, technology attitudes, residential areas

Citation: Juntunen J. 2014. Domestication pathways of small-scale renewable energy technologies. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy 10(2):28-42. Published online Mar 26, 2014. http://sspp.proquest.com/archives/vol10iss2/1206-030.juntunen.html

Introduction

Energy provision has historically been developed based on networked infrastructure and centralized systems, leading to a passive role for most energy end users (van Vliet et al. 2005; Heiskanen et al. 2010). From the standpoint of residential housing, energy systems work in the background and provide air and water heating and cooling with minimal requirements for daily monitoring, configuring, or maintenance by inhabitants. However, the need for low-carbon solutions, along with rising energy prices, is changing residential energy systems and consumption. Consumers are therefore increasingly installing decentralized energy technologies (DETs) in their homes.

Previous studies have shown how consumers have only limited opportunities to significantly reconfigure their own individual routines of consumption and rarely think about the consequences of their actions (Levett, 2003; Southerton et al. 2004). Research on small-scale energy technologies and consumer behavior has focused primarily on motivational factors, barriers to deployment, and early phases of installation and use (Haas et al. 1999; Watson, 2004; Ornetzeder & Rohracher, 2006; Palm & Tengvard, 2011). However, scholars have begun to suggest that the most interesting aspects of consumer behavior occur once energy technologies are installed within the home. When users take actions to produce energy locally, energy technology becomes present in inhabitants' daily lives, which increases awareness of energy use and decreases energy consumption (Keirstead, 2007). At the household level, DETs require adaptation--learning about use and changing practices--to make technology suitable for the local context. This article seeks to develop a better understanding of the role of end users in technology diffusion processes to help policy makers to formulate energy policy and manufacturers to develop environmentally friendly final products, and to enhance the adoption rate of these technologies and lifestyles.

This study examines sociotechnical change and processes through which DETs become integrated as inseparable parts of everyday life. The analysis follows the domestication framework (Silverstone & Hirsch, 1992; Pantzar, 1997; Berker et al. 2006), a concept used in the sociology of technology to describe and analyze processes of technological acceptance, rejection, and use. The domestication framework emerged from a series of studies that sought to understand the appropriation of artifacts in the specific social setting of the home (Williams et al. 2005). This article's central question is: What kinds of domestication processes are involved with residential renewable energy production and use? Domestication of DETs is studied via three types of residential renewable energy technologies installed in existing houses in Finland: air-heat pumps, micro-wind stations, and solar-thermal collectors.

The article begins by presenting the background of the domestication framework and how qualitative empirical analysis has used it. I then outline the Finnish market and its characteristics with respect to climate, policy, and renewable technology use. The analysis is initially carried out following the domestication framework phases to reveal domestication processes within the scope of a single renewable technology. However, the analysis reveals a pathway-type adaptation where multiple renewable energy technologies were in fact taken into use by the households. I next explain in detail the notion of domestication pathways and discuss the socio-technical background of the phenomenon. …

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