ETL at the 3rd International Conference of Energy Research and Social Science

20-23th of June marked the 3rd International Conference of Energy Research and Social Science: Energy & Climate Transformations. TU Delft was represented by a handful of researchers spread across different faculties. Mylène and Sabine talk about their experience at the conference.

Mylène van der Koogh

Oral presentation: “Stakeholder prioritizations for electric vehicle charging across time periods”

Who are you?

My name is Mylène, I am a 3rd year PhD student at TBM-ESS and a researcher at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. My topic of interest is electric vehicle charging infrastructure, with a focus on policy and behaviour.

What kind of work did you present at the conference?

I presented a stakeholder analysis on the future development of charging infrastructure, which included a timeline of stakeholder priorities, as well as three identified future directions based on their inputs. I ended with a concluding statement, weighing the benefits and concerns of following these priorities. Because I was still writing the paper, I asked my audience to discuss my concluding statements together and to share their work with me if relevant. The paper is not published yet, but the presentation can be found here.

What was your experience presenting at the conference?

I was scheduled to present on the third day of the conference. In the first two days, I learned that there was a special focus on energy justice in general, as well as the sexist and colonial roots of energy injustices. I also differed from most sessions in the sense that most presented research was fundamental in nature, whereas mine is applied. This made me curious about how and if my topic would resonate with others. After my session, however, I learned that I had nothing to worry about. There were many people interested in the mobility aspect of the energy transition, however, most of them were in poster sessions which I did not fully attend because the poster area was very crowded. I noticed that by being vulnerable and inviting others to participate in my “conclusion process”, I was able to network with the part of the audience that works on related topics, and this has led to interesting discussions and great feedback that I otherwise would not have received.

Sabine Pelka

Oral Presentation:  “Digitize me but don’t share my consumption data – dilemma’s of consumer acceptance of digital solutions for demand response “ 

Who are you?

I am a PhD researcher supervised by TU Delft and employed by the Fraunhofer Institute for System and Innovation Research ISI. In my PhD, I am researching how to facilitate the participation of households in the energy system.

What did you present at the conference?

We explored in a vignette survey experiment (N=1.116) the ambiguous attitudes of households towards digital demand respond services. When they choose a demand response service, households need to balance four attributes: control they give up, effort they invest, data privacy, and energy cost savings. Households seem to be most willing to compromise on the data privacy – especially males. Energy cost savings are of major importance for the participants.

What was your experience presenting at the conference?

Pure excitement – especially when I realized that my panels was hosted in the largest conference rooms, in which also the opening ceremony took place. In the end, we received valuable feedback and made some interesting contacts. It was a great platform for people coming from different disciplines but all researching the socio-technical aspects of the energy systems.

A journey ends

This is my last blog for the TPM Energy Transition Lab. One of the more difficult blogs to write because saying goodbye is always a bit tricky. The last two weeks of July were dedicated to saying goodbye to dear colleagues and supervisors. My holiday is about to start, and thus, it is time to write this last blog. The last 1,8 months were very eventful, and so it feels unreal that this part of the journey is over. With my head stuck in my work and in tasks surrounding moving, there is not much time to digest what is happening. Though, I know that leaving feels bittersweet. I am looking forward to my new adventure and challenge, and I look back at good memories and much work accomplished.

I was about to finish my PhD, when I got notified that I was selected for a postdoc position at the Delft University of Technology as part of the TPM ETLab. I was very excited. Back then, the pandemic was still holding us hostage, and it was not clear how the next months would unfold. I was constantly waiting for the news pertaining to restrictions. Should I move to the Netherlands, can I even move there, is it a good idea to move to a place where I would be in isolation most of the time? I moved as early as possible. It would be a lie to say that the beginning was easy. The isolation was difficult to handle. Sports facilities were closed, there was no way to get to know people, one should not work in the office, and the accommodation I had was pretty noisy because the students living there partied there instead of in clubs. At least I could enjoy nature. I loved to go to the beach, walk along the shoreline and watch the waves break. I loved to go to the natural park (Meijendel) for a little run and to enjoy the diverse flora and fauna. As difficult as it was, I know that many had it much worse and that it was a good chance to test my own resilience. Though, I was happy when this test was over, and I could go back to the office more regularly. I would say, it was only then that my TU Delft experience really started.  

I was once told that the experience we have at a place is determined by the people we meet at that place. I could not agree more. The people I met at TU Delft and the Faculty of Technology, Management, and Policy made my experience a joyful one. I think this is what makes saying goodbye bitter. The period I could spend in the office and get to know colleagues and supervisors was too short. When I finally found out that there are a lot of friendly, enthusiastic, and supportive people, I had to start packing my things again. At least I can say that TU Delft is indeed a great workplace, and I am grateful that I can look back at having had the pleasure of being part of TU Delft.

Some dear memories. Martijn shared his phone number so he could help me get into the building in case my card would not work. He is an early bird too, and I was relieved knowing that I could start my workday at 7, that I would not have to wait until some other early bird comes along (there are not too many…) to let me in. I really love starting early, so I can’t tell how much I appreciate this. I enjoy the quiet in the morning a lot. I love the encounters with other early birds as well. You exchange a friendly “goedemorgen” and a smile. My office window was on the east side, and I loved to see the sunrise from my office in the darker months of the year. I also enjoyed the section lunch meetings where researchers presented their work. It was a great way for me to learn what exciting projects people are working on. Since TPM is a diverse faculty, it is truly interesting to learn more about the research that is performed. I, of course, also enjoyed the short talks in the kitchen area or when someone came by my office to talk about ongoing work. And I cannot emphasize enough how great it felt after this home office period to just go to another office to briefly discuss something. Like I often did to talk to Amanda about the Ph.D. club or some other research-related topic. Many more memories remain dear to me, and I want to thank everyone for having made the time at TPM a good one.

I was not only part of TU Delft, I was part of the TPM Energy Transition Lab, which was in an early stage when I joined it. I can say it was exciting watching it develop. Well, I was not just passively watching it; all lab members put much work into it to make it a success. I am truly grateful that my supervisors put trust in me to be part of the lab and gave me the freedom to develop my ideas on how to support the development of the lab. It was great to work in an interdisciplinary team, which I experienced as enriching. A heartfelt thank you to Gerdien for guiding me along the way. My gratefulness also needs to be extended toward Emile, Udo, and Niek, who provided feedback and supported me in my endeavors. I also enjoyed working with Tristan, who I admire for his efficiency and pragmatism. Of course, I also want to express my gratitude towards Joy and Sean, who both helped me in so many ways.

Before I go to the next point of this blog, I actually want to point out something important. The discussion about output is ongoing within academia. Publishing for the sake of publishing is a problem, and there is a general trend in the Netherlands not to regard the publication record or the number of citations when hiring new staff. I think this is a positive development. I was positively surprised that I was not put under great pressure to have x amount of publications in a certain period of time. Though, I have to say that I am still under the pressure to publish because, despite the changing tides within the Netherlands, this trend is by far not global. Furthermore, I am output driven, and I want to do things, write about them, and have some tangible output. When I then look at what I have done in these 1,8 months, I am not satisfied because I wanted to have done much more. Still, I did get some things done.

  • I set up the TPM ETLab blog
  • I wrote a bunch of blogs
  • I managed the Twitter account
  • I set up a biannual newsletter
  • I was the contact point for the TPM ETLab PhD club
  • I supported the webpage development and the lab mail management
  • I supervised 4 master’s students
  • I finished 2 of the 4 University Teaching Qualification modules
  • I was a group leader in a seminar, helping masters students to write a literature review
  • I developed a survey for the green TUD initiative
  • I was part of the post-doc community
  • I presented at 3 conferences
  • I hosted conference sessions at one conference
  • I published a working paper
  • I published a co-authored paper
  • I wrote 2 papers, which are under review
  • I organized a special issue featured in a high-quality journal (coming soon)
  • I have started to work on a second working paper, as well as a literature review, and I have several paper projects in the drawer.

All of this was only possible because I was part of a great team, embedded within a great institute.

I definitely have learned a lot. I wanted to do much more. But this is where my TUD journey ends, and a new one begins.

I hope to keep doors open for future collaborations.

Exploring regional energy transitions in Baja California (Mexico)-California (US): a field trip

From April 1st to May 28th, I was in the cross-border region between Baja California and California, conducting interviews, workshops, and surveys for my PhD project “social inclusion as an aim and enabler of just regional transitions” as part of the H2020 Tipping Plus project. I wanted to find out whether a regional energy transition in the cross-border region could make sense and, if so, how.

This is an interesting potential case for regional energy transitions because Baja California’s electricity grid is connected to the US grid but not to the Mexican national grid. Both states are dependent on imported energy, around 80 % for Baja California (mainly natural gas) and 25 % for California. For Baja California, this represents one of the most expensive electricity prices in the country. Studying a potential energy transition in this place is also interesting because of the tight cross-border relationships, both economic and cultural.

Here are some pictures of the field trip.

One of Mexico’s first public-owned wind parks is located in Tecate, Baja California. Political acceptance and community acceptance issues surround this 10 MW power generation project.

In the next picture, we can observe the US-Mexican wall and the water pipes that transport water from the Colorado River from Mexicali to Tijuana. Water scarcity has been affecting Baja California and California, their citizens, ecosystems, and economic sectors. When asked about sustainable development, many interviewees brought up water-related issues because it’s a recurrent topic among people.

Methodology

I had two months to contact some previously-identified stakeholders and then follow a snowball approach to arrange interviews. I was lucky to be helped by friends with networking. Here we were heading to Mexicali, the capital city, for an energy conference organized by the government.

I wanted to run a survey on both sides of the border; however, I did not have much funding to recruit personnel. Luckily, my friend and high school teacher helped me arrange the survey for high school students in Tijuana and San Diego. We formed a group of high school teachers, all of them with PhD degrees and with a passion for teaching and raising awareness about environmental protection: Dr. Berenice Vargas (Lazaro Cardenas High School in Tijuana), Dr. Gloria Tapia (CBTIS 116 High School in Tijuana), and Dr. Hector Arias (Southwest High School in San Diego). They helped me organize: 1) a series of seminars so that students had a basic understanding of basic concepts such as the Sustainable Development Goals, energy systems, etc.; 2) the monitoring of survey responses by their students, whose parents had to sign an informed consent and participate in the survey; and 3) design and execute workshops with some selected groups of students to deepen on some raised issues.  

  • Presentations for students in Tijuana and San Diego
  • Survey on access to energy services in Tijuana-San Diego using Qualtrics XM. Printed questionnaires were used to include Indigenous communities; natives from Baja California.
  • Workshops with students in Tijuana and San Diego
Preliminary meeting with facilitators.
Workshop with CBTIS 116 High School students in Tijuana.
Focus groups with CBTIS 116 High School students
Workshop with PFLC High School students in Rosarito.
PFLC High School participants and facilitators.
A focus group dynamic with a female team.
A team leader is presenting the vision of their team.

Finally, my supervisors and I prepared certificates of participation and collaboration for participants and teachers who helped along the research process.

Collaboration certificate for the Southwest High School.

Final reflection

It was inspiring working with High School students. Their critical eye and impact are many times underestimated. I’d be glad to work with you all in the future!

This trip has helped with my growth as a researcher. I got to know some great local leaders, such as some Kumiai communities, who shared a bit of their culture, traditions, and visions. Visiting and talking to them changed the perspective I had on energy transition and energy poverty. Through our conversations, I realized that energy poverty, that is, the pursuit of universal access to modern energy services tends to align with Western visions on development. Coming with such framing can be polarizing and blinded towards other ideas for communities’ futures. This experience helped me validate the need for research frameworks that reflect knowledge from Indigenous communities. It is necessary to acknowledge that Indigenous communities are among those few ones who have learned throughout generations how to be part of ecosystems without exhausting them.

I look forward to my next visit.

Thank you for reading,

Amanda

Presenting a poster at ERSS 2022

It has not been the first time I presented a poster at a conference, though it has been the first time I presented a poster I have created myself. I find the creation of posters difficult. Maybe this is because of lack of experience. Presentations provide much more room for expression than a one-pager. Similar to creating good presentation slides, there are laws on how to make a good poster. Since the purpose of a poster is different compared to slides, the creation of a poster needs to be approached differently.

Maybe it is a presumptuous comparison, but I compare a poster session to an exhibition in an art gallery. You walk through it having shorter glimpses at the art, but every now and then there is a piece of art that captures you, you get stuck there, look at it closely, and engage with it. When creating a poster, you have to aim for that piece of art that makes people stop. People get attracted by different things, so you will not be able to attract everyone’s attention. Color, font, text, structure, illustrations, all flow together in a masterpiece. Many thoughts are related to each of the components. Furthermore, it is not always easy to have good illustrations to describe one’s work and it is not always easy to limit the text to the most important information. Given all of this, I am not a fan of creating a poster.

Having said that, I have to state that my experience in creating the poster was good. It helped me to put my ideas into graphics, which was anyway necessary for the project I am working on. The development of illustrations has indeed been a struggle and I think without the pressure to present a poster I would not have progressed. Elsewhere I have described the whole process of creating this poster.

Poster sessions are awkward.

Get back to the art gallery example. Imagine next to each piece of art, the artist would be present to provide more information about the creation. As a side note, I have pursued an artistic career for a bit, and I think artists despise questions about the meaning of their creation. Anyhow asking an artist for additional information might not be that strange. Though imagine the poor artist who hardly gets approached, compared to those who attract the attention of the crowds. It is a bit humiliating… luckily my poster attracted some attention. More attention would have not been good anyway, because when one wanted to explain the poster one had to talk so loudly due to the noise level in the room. I was happy when it was over.

I was also not happy about the distribution of posters in the room. Too many posters on too little space. This had the effect that people were constantly blocking the view on other posters (if you have ever been say, in the Uffizi trying to see The Birth of Venus, you know what I mean) and that the “corridor” between the posters were hard to pass. I am troubled by crowds, so I do not voluntarily go through a corridor congested with people. Thus, even if there would have been an interesting poster, I would not approach the creator due to the deterring circumstances. Hence, I think this could have been organized a bit better.

The poster session was still useful to me.

Apart from it forcing me to create illustrations that describe my ideas, I also got feedback that made me think. I was asked a specific question about my transition concept, and I could not answer it. I brushed the question off, stating that the illustrations are not meant to show this particular thing. The question remained in the back of my head. The following day, I read a paper I had already read some time ago. Out of a sudden, I had a response to the question. I could make the first ugly sketches and some notes to not forget my thoughts. Hence, the poster session did exactly what it was supposed to do (I guess). I find this fascinating. If I would have forced to find a solution, I probably would not have found one. But just letting it be there in the back of my head, the solution came naturally. I am looking forward to making nicer illustrations asap.

Inspiring posters from other researchers.

There have been quite creative posters, which I appreciated a lot. My favorite one is still the interactive one. The creators hid parts of the text, so that people had to think themselves to provide an answer to a posed question. After guessing the text could be revealed. Another one which was maybe a bit too full still used a nice means to guide the reader; a thread. Others used funny storylines combined with a catchy layout, others used funny images to catch attention, and others again convinced with beautiful simplicity. Two posters specifically were relevant to my research or research conducted by master’s students I supervise. Talking to the presenters was insightful in this regard. For example, on poster revealed the use of Theory U for interdisciplinary research, which I found very intriguing.

To conclude my poster experience.

Although it was a good means of forcing me to be concise and provide good illustrations and although I got feedback that helped me to further develop my concept, I am not sure if I would go for a poster soon again. I find the position one is put in as a presenter just too awkward. I prefer the 10-20 minutes (of shame in case the presentation is bad) to standing over an hour next to a poster like a saleswoman, screaming over the voices of others and struggling with an overcrowded room.

Coping with new values in the energy transition

Technologies and values

Ethicists tend to view values as enduring or long-lasting beliefs about what is good or desirable. Examples of values are sustainability, affordability, and fairness. Technologies are considered to be value-laden; they shape the actions and decisions of people and can therefore never be truly dissociated from the values that they infringe or help to realize. Approaches such as Value-Sensitive Design help evaluate the impact of technologies on values. Technological designs can be adjusted, or new technologies can be invented to ensure better consideration of values. This is the basis of technological innovation; the smart meter was introduced to decrease the tension between supply security (i.e., maintaining the electricity grid’s reliability) and sustainability (i.e., increasing the share of intermitted renewables).

New values in the energy transition

Ideally, we would want to design technologies that consider all relevant values from the start. However, this is more the exception than the rule. Next to the fact that the realization of some values might be in conflict (sustainable products often tend to be less affordable), we often only discover the true impact of technologies after they are deployed in society. Case and point are justice and fairness issues caused by energy transition technologies and policies. The yellow vest movement in France emerged as a result of new green taxes imposed by the government. The burden of increased fuel prices is heavier for the working classes and households living in rural areas. Similarly, the deployment of electric cars could reduce the number of gas stations, making refueling more difficult for households that do not have the means to purchase EVs.

How new values are picked up in science

Science has a crucial role in picking up new values and translating them into new, improved technologies. At the Energy Transition Lab and the ERC project ‘Design for Value Change,’ we are developing a text-mining tool entitled ValueMonitor that helps trace values in text corpora. We have created a dataset consisting of energy transition-related research in a number of scientific fields, including philosophy of sustainability, environmental biology, and environmental economics. Next, we have explored how frequently the values economic viability and justice & fairness have been named in the different scientific fields over time.

Figure 1 shows the frequency of economic viability and justice & fairness in the entire dataset. The figure shows that, while economic viability is a value considered since the beginning of energy transition-related research, justice & fairness seem to be a value that was only discussed later in time. The fact that economic viability is mentioned much more frequently also raises questions about the adequate prioritization of both values in research.

Figure 1: Value change in energy transition-related literature.

Focusing on specific fields can help understand how new values are picked-up in science. Figure 2 to 4 show values change in three distinct fields: philosophy of technology, environmental biology, and environmental economics. In philosophy of technology, economic viability and justice & fairness appear at the same moment in time in this literature, already in the 1990’s. In environmental biology, both values seem to have integrated the field over time, although discussions about justice & fairness are still fairly new. Justice & fairness issues seem to be still relatively absent from the environmental economics literature, although there has been a slight increase starting from 2020.

Observations of value change in the three fields seem to suggest a certain temporal order in the way ethical issues are addressed in the different fields. Philosophy and ethics of technology research have a essential role in discovering new ethical issues caused by technologies. A substantial number of articles in this dataset are indeed about tensions economics and fairness aspects of the energy transition. Moral concerns are then progressively integrated into other fields, who potentially provide new regulatory and technical solutions to these concerns. This perceived temporal order however has to be somehow nuanced. Some justice and fairness issues already seem to have been discussed in environmental economics before they were addressed in journals of philosophy of sustainability. On the other side, philosophy of sustainability journals are also more recent.

The need for interdisciplinary research to timely address new values

A concept central to the Energy Transition Lab is the one of interdisciplinary research. While multidisciplinary research limits itself to collaboration between scientific fields, interdisciplinary research goes a step beyond by trying to integrate knowledge and methods from different disciplines. Clearly, anticipating all values relevant to new technologies seem utopic. Therefore, it is crucial that science responds to unforeseen societal challenges in a timely manner, some fields uncovering new moral problems, others providing technological and regulatory solutions. Similarly, there is also a need for tools that can help us evaluate and support the scientific community’s response to these new challenges. A prototype and more information about the ValueMonitor tool used to perform this analysis can be found on the following website: http://valuemonitor.eu/

Hosting conference sessions

I arrived at this beautiful hotel close to the center of Graz. It has been a while since I attended a conference offline. Not being the most outgoing person, conferences are always quite thrilling to me. Nevertheless, I love to travel, to hold a talk, to meet other people. I got my badge, went straight to the coffee machine, and joined a gentleman at one of the high tables in the lobby. The first offline talk with a stranger at a conference. The usual small talk. The gentleman was an experienced STS Graz conference attendee. He stated that he is always organizing a session which gives him a good reason to come to the conference. This time the same was true for me.

It was the first time I organized a session. When I submitted the session call, I was 1) not sure if it would be accepted, and 2) if I would get any submissions. Luckily both worked out. I am a researcher and thus a curious person. I like to learn from others and see what is going on in the field that I am working in. Thus, organizing a session seemed to be a logical step. For my current work, I attempt to investigate the relationship between human behavior and the energy transition. Both topics are vast. Anyone who works in these two fields knows. For example, on the human behavior side, one may either look at behavior from a strictly psychological perspective leaving out the context, or one may focus more on contextual factors affecting human behavior. Both are not sufficient. I am a systems thinker, and thus I know that the decision of what to include in an analysis is key. It is impossible to include everything. Pertaining to the context one may wonder how the individual is connected to other stakeholders and to existing structures. Understanding the individuum within this contextual field, one may then further wonder if individuals are only subject to the energy transition or if they are initiators of the energy transition. These are the questions I wanted to be discussed in the conference session.

I was quite surprised seeing how many submissions I got. It is hard to judge quality by an abstract, so one has to go by the potential the abstract promises. All submissions were interesting and focused on particular aspects of the above-outlined questions. The first step required from my side was to read the extended abstracts and give feedback. A quite time-consuming process. However, I hope I provided useful feedback to the authors. The next step was to accept or reject. Due to the amount of the abstracts, I first clustered them into sub-themes. I thought I either have a completely mixed session or I have a session focusing on a sub-theme. I went for the latter as this would also help me reject or accept contributions. The rejections were thus not based on a contribution being good or bad (since that is hard to judge by an abstract), rather the decision was based on the session fit. I communicated with the conference organizers on how to proceed since I got three sub-theme clusters and still some that would not fit in any of the sub-themes. I suggested that I was willing to host three sessions if there is enough time and space during the conference. I tried to suggest alternative sessions for the abstracts that I had to reject right away.

At some point, I got the ok for three sessions á 90 minutes. I have to admit, although it was quite time-consuming, I loved it. It brought me back to my time as PhD when I did a lot of project management. I had my excel-lists and my to-do list, and I enjoyed working through them. I assume I was an annoying session host sending out reminders to the researchers to send me the info I needed for the smooth operation of the sessions. I knew who was attending online or offline, who presented, I had their presentations ready, and I knew how much time they had to present and to answer questions (obviously).

Hosting the sessions was a multi-tasking job. Making sure that everything is in place (together with the technical staff), having my excel list, keeping time, being impolite and reminding presenters that time was running up, writing down notes to have questions ready in case the audience was too stunned to ask questions, then switching to the next presentation, handling at least two microphones, the online and the offline situation at the same time,… Afterwards, I understood why most sessions were hosted by two people.

I hope that apart from some technical problems in the beginning the researchers enjoyed being part of my sessions. I am sure there are things I could have improved and done better, but for the first time hosting conference sessions it was a success. I was also happy to see that at least two of the contributions that I had to reject found another session. I was truly happy to see this, as their contributions were good, and it would have been a pity if they would not have gotten the space to present.

For the rest, I tried to interact as much as possible, reply to e-mails and send out e-mails to those who have not yet sent me their PowerPoint, prepare for the next session, work on a new exciting project, attend sessions, have a lot of coffee, get some ice cream and visit the local boulder gym.

These three days were jam-packed, but I would not want to miss a bit of it.   

Why do scientists fear media interviews but do it anyway?

One of the goals of our TPM Energy Transition Lab is to promote open science. Open science is the movement to make scientific research and its dissemination more transparent and accessible to all levels of society. Our lab is part of this movement because we feel obliged to share our insights with taxpayers that indirectly fund our research. We perform open science in numerous ways. We write blogs (as I am doing right now), give presentations, masterclasses and guest lectures, and even make vlogs. Furthermore, we offer media interviews in different forms: TV or radio shows, newspaper and magazine articles, and podcasts. And let me share with you some news: giving media interviews is outside the comfort zone of many scientists!

Dutch journalist Winfried Baijens interviews Gerdien de Vries at the opening of the 24/7 Energy Lab at the Green Valley (TU Delft) 14.01.2022.

Why are many scientists not very fond of media interviews? Because it comes with a couple of fears. It is often said that scientists need to be five-legged sheep. We need to be excellent researchers, writers, teachers, collaborators, and networkers, but we also need to be good at public speaking. In general, we have learnt to deal with the fear of speaking for a large audience. We practice with that a lot, and it becomes easier when you master your research topic over time.

Speaking to journalists is somewhat different. Other anxieties rear their ugly head. The worries scientists feel when being interviewed are numerous. We feel out of control, are afraid nuances get lost in translation, get imposter syndrome, and fear that others find us narcissists that love self-promotion. Finally, we are scared to become memes on the Internet because we are having a piece of spinach between our teeth, tripping over our own feet, or saying something stupid by accident…. Well, those are my anxieties. There might be many more!

These fears are valid. Integrity and reliability are fundamental to scientists, and we want to safeguard that. But does that imply that our fears should hold us back? I do not think so. I have been giving – and still give – interviews regularly despite my anxieties. I find open science necessary and have the mission to inform the world that psychology is essential for a successful and fair energy transition. Even when fears become reality, I plan to continue.

Actually, I have had bad experiences. I got nasty remarks on the Internet, my credibility (and earrings) were questioned, nuances got lost, and I am sure some scholars find me vain and overexposed. But those bad experiences do not outweigh the benefits of societal visibility. The public promotion of my scientific field, the Energy Transition Lab, our research, and my university are paying off. Being visible has both scientific and societal impact, leading to better research, technologies, and policies that help achieve a fair and successful energy transition. And when journalists do not quote me well, or I think nuances are lost? I share a blog or vlog on social media to give additional background information.

Having said this, I realize that it helps to have a supportive communication team. Our university takes much effort into media training, and communication officers guide and coach scientists that gain public visibility. Furthermore, these officers take measures if we feel attacked after media appearances. This strategy is entirely in line with our university’s value of open science!

What do people think of flying ‘wind turbines’?

Airborne wind energy is an emerging renewable energy technology that harvests higher-altitude winds (300–600 m above the ground) with automatically controlled kites. Like other renewables, airborne wind energy will impact people and nature. These impacts will shape the social acceptance of the technology and influence its large-scale deployment.

If the industry ignores people’s concerns about the technology and the public starts showing resistance to airborne wind energy, it could increase implementation costs, decrease political support for airborne wind energy, and minimize the industry’s contribution to meeting renewable energy targets. Other low-carbon energy projects, such as wind turbines, carbon capture and storage facilities, and biomass power plants, have been slowed down and even hindered in the past due to strong negative responses from the public. Therefore, it is important to understand how people perceive and respond to this new technology. In my PhD, I am investigating the social acceptance of airborne wind energy.

Before conducting empirical studies, I first wanted to get an overview of what is currently known about the acceptance of airborne wind energy, so I did a systematic review of the existing literature. Of the 362 records that I identified, only 40 peer-reviewed publications turned out to be relevant. These publications discussed five major impacts of the technology on social acceptance: safety and related aspects, visibility, sound emissions, ecological impact, and the siting of airborne wind energy systems.

Most publications were authored by engineers (83% of authors), and none of the papers were written from a social science perspective. In total, 34 out of the 40 publications had mainly a technical and/or economic focus and mentioned the social acceptance of airborne wind energy only in passing. As a result, the literature’s claims about how the technology will influence people’s responses were only based on authors’ assumptions and not on scientific evidence, such as interviews, surveys, or experiments. I could not identify a single study that empirically assessed the social acceptance of airborne wind energy.

Furthermore, the review demonstrated that most researchers in the field seem to be quite optimistic about how the emerging technology will be perceived, especially given the current lack of empirical evidence. Specifically, the reviewed literature assumed that the expected low visual impact of airborne wind energy due to its high operational altitude, the absence of a tower, little shadow flicker, and the possibility of retrieving the kite in low wind conditions would influence the social acceptance of airborne wind energy positively. The expected low acoustic and ecological impacts were also assumed to impact people’s responses to the technology positively. The only anticipated acceptance issues were certain siting decisions (e.g., onshore rather than offshore developments, sites in densely populated regions) and potential public safety concerns about the technology (e.g., regarding aviation safety, currently lacking regulation and proof of reliability).

It can be concluded that currently the literature overlooks that the impact of technical aspects such as noise emissions on people’s responses to airborne wind energy will partially depend on the deployment context and people’s personal attributes. For example, locals’ evaluation of the decision-making process and distribution of benefits as (un)fair, their trust in the project planners, and their attitude towards the energy transition overall will likely influence how they experience and evaluate a local airborne wind energy development.

Thus, the findings from the literature review suggest that there is a need for empirical social science research on the acceptance of airborne wind energy, such as through surveys, interviews, focus groups, and lab or field experiments. My PhD project can, therefore, add new and relevant knowledge about the topic at hand.

If you are interested in reading the entire literature review, you can find it open access under https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/15/4/1384. For updates about my ongoing research you can follow me on ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Helena-Schmidt-3.

SkySails’ airborne wind energy system (courtesy of the SkySails Group).

The Behavioral Perspective

I do have an interdisciplinary background and I enjoy an interdisciplinary setting. At times this means that I am embarking on a new research journey, and I virtually have to start from zero. This can be quite tedious, but on the other hand, it is also rewarding.

When I started working at The TPM Energy Transition Lab I had no background in behavioral science. Yet my task is to connect human behavior with the energy transition. Human behavior is a vast research topic and after spending some time exploring this topic, I know that I still have only scratched the surface. Others spend years studying this field. Thus, by no means am I suggesting that I have become an expert. Though, that is never my goal.

I am a sustainability scientist. Sustainability is a broad field and thus, sustainability scientists need to be able to understand many different topics, and understand how those connect to other topics relevant to sustainability. Thus, part of my profile is not only the ability to get acquainted with different scientific fields, but also to cooperate with scientists from different fields. Hence a sustainability scientist should embody interdisciplinary research.

Admittedly when I started exploring the connections between human behavior and the energy transition, I thought I would just build up my knowledge about behavioral science on the go. Though, this was not the case. More and more theories, concepts, approaches, and terms popped up and I was more and more struggling to make sense of them. After all, when I want to do applied research and choose a theory, I have to know why I made certain choices. The more I read, the more I knew that I would not be able to defend any choice, as I had no context. The lack of a foundation in behavioral science became apparent and a barrier to progressing in my research endeavors. I decided to overcome this barrier by writing up a working paper summarizing the main concepts, theories, approaches, and terms that I have come across since starting my postdoc journey at the TPM Energy Transition Lab.

The result is this somewhat short and long working paper. The little perfectionist inside of me thinks it is a short working paper as I could really just gloss over many relevant topics. When I was presenting parts of this working paper to the TPM Energy Transition Lab, I spent some minutes highlighting what this working paper is not covering. Thus, I need to emphasize this is not a complete compilation of behavioral (change) models. It is a starting point.

Often researchers get asked what the benefit of some research is. So why this working paper? Who is it useful for? From a rather selfish perspective, I have to state that this is the result of me trying to understand behavioral science. However, if I am in this position, someone else might be too. Therefore, I decided to not keep this as an internal document but to share it so that others can read it and use it as starting point. Accordingly, this working paper might not be insightful for someone with a degree in sociology or psychology. In fact, someone with a degree in sociology or psychology may find many blind spots in this working paper. Nevertheless, I still want to highlight that I am also summarizing some newer approaches and that I am cross-referencing quite a bit. Thus, even for those who have a degree in behavioral science, this document might be of some use.

I suggest for a working paper, this document is long. The interested reader may however not need to read the whole document. Those who are interested in models may focus on Chapters 2 and 3 that expand on behavioral and behavioral change models and approaches. Chapter 1 is of course a short introduction, also providing some cues for why we should even care about the behavioral perspective. Chapter 5 is the attempt to link some of the approaches that have been discussed in the previous two chapters. In this chapter, the reader will also rediscover the graphic that is featured on the cover page. Chapter 6 is called behavioral levers and attempts to summarize factors that support or hinder behavioral change. Thus, motivation, heuristics, as well as defense mechanisms, amongst others, are covered. Finally, Chapter 6 is the closing chapter. This chapter is not summarizing all the information that is provided within each chapter. Rather it summarizes the lessons learned and the insights that were gathered preparing this working paper. It is up to the reader to decide which parts of this working paper might be useful.

In the spirit of interdisciplinary research, I am hoping that researchers who aim at including behavioral science perspectives within their research find some usefulness in this working paper.

Biely, K. (2022): The Behavioral Perspective. Working paper 1. Delft University of Technology, TPM Energy Transition Lab. https://doi.org/10.4233/uuid:0f0a5234-ec1f-44b1-88d5-49d703814c2c.

Are you a student interested in the energy transition? Join the pitches from the Energy Transition Lab PhD Group!

When? March 23rd, 2022 at 15:45 – 16-45.
Where? TPM Hall C

NO REGISTRATION NEEDED