The mitigation of climate change requires transforming how energy is generated, distributed, and used in societies. These low-carbon transitions of energy systems have multiple dimensions, which poses challenges for contemporary societies, research, and policy. It has been growingly expected that interdisciplinary research that crosses academic disciplines, sectors, and policy areas will develop new knowledge and help address this situation. Over the past years, academic disciplines from the social sciences and humanities have been especially expected to contribute new knowledge to energy research, policy, and innovation and hence further energy transitions in societies.
This research project “The Role of Social Sciences and Humanities in Norwegian Environment-friendly Energy Research and Innovation” (2019-2022), funded by the NTNU Energy Transition Initiative (NETI), produces new knowledge on interdisciplinary energy research that applies social sciences and humanities perspectives. The research question is: what role have social sciences and humanities played in sustainable energy research programmes and projects in Norway?
The project addresses the question by desk-based research and conducting of qualitative interviews with professionals aligned with and around Norwegian Centres for Environment-friendly Energy Research (FME:s). The scope of the data collection spans various actors including research group leaders, coordinators, researchers, project partners, and representatives from funding bodies. The FME:s are long-term centres that were established by the Research Council of Norway to transform how sustainable energy provision is conceptualized in Norway: including increasing innovation, contributing to emissions reduction, energy efficiency, and renewable energy, developing research environments, and increasing research-based knowledge on energy debates. The FME:s work through university-industry collaboration, and both technological and social scientific FME:s have been established.
The project has three research objectives:
- Examining how interdisciplinary research is carried out in the FME:s.
- Mapping the range of academic disciplines in the FME:s.
- Studying the interpretations of innovation that the FME:s are drawing upon.
Our results draw from the ongoing fieldwork for this research and will address some of the social dynamics that emerged in the interdisciplinary research in the FME:s and how that shaped the potentially transformative results that they had. The following themes in the TIPC conference are particularly relevant for the paper and will be discussed, using the FME:s as exemplars:
- New ways of defining and conceptualizing transformative change and its relationship with policy. Especially, the paper addresses how the FME:s have worked as a way of conceptualizing transformative change anew in interdisciplinary energy research and what relationships to policy they were meant to develop.
- New approaches of framing science, technology and innovation (STI) policies for transformative change. The paper discusses how the concepts of environmental innovation and university-industry collaboration were framed by the funders in the context of the FME:s and how the FME:s themselves have perceived these new approaches.
- Geographies of transformative innovation policy: Context specific characteristics, issues of space and scale. The paper examines how the issue of geographical scale is enacted in the FME:s that were established on the Norwegian level, on the one hand, but set about to address highly global energy challenges and internationalize Norwegian research and innovation, on the other hand.
The research concludes by drawing these interests together in the NTNU Energy Transition Initiative (NETI). NETI aims at a knowledge-based contribution to transition to low-carbon societies and vies to be one of the leading research environments for energy transitions in Norway. The Initiative prizes co-operation with international research institutions and contributing to societal debate and works with a multidisciplinary team. One of its potential functions is also becoming the ‘umbrella organization’ of the FME:s in Norway. The research deals with how the social dynamics of the FME:s would need to be taken into account to integrate them in one network.
Please see the working paper associated with this project here.
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