Join the PhD group of the Energy Transition Lab!

As the Energy Transition Lab (ETL)  of the Technology Policy and Management Faculty at TU Delft grows, researchers working on energy topics are coming together. The ETL directives extend this effort across the PhD candidates in the TPM faculty. And we, the PhDs, could benefit from it.

Towards the end of 2021, twelve PhD candidates gathered for the first time to start building the Energy Transition Lab PhD group. What does bring us together? Initially, our research interests and focuses on the energy transition from diverse perspectives. For example, energy justice, values change, market designs and policy regulations, framing and social acceptance, public responses to renewables, energy communities, consumer acceptance, and imaginaries in governance. We all come from different engineering and social sciences backgrounds and do interdisciplinary research. There is a diverse level of expertise among the group members. We can find PhD candidates in their first, second, third, early fourth, and fourth year and from different cultural backgrounds. Another bond between us is the interest in building a support community. Especially during these pandemic times, doing a PhD can be even more isolating. Hopefully, this group will help make our journey smoother.

We are starting to formulate our views, goals, and interests in the group. Here are some of our ideas:

  • Overall, building a community to support each other throughout our PhD journeys
  • We are planning on having regular meetings to share our research topics between the group
  • Events to share research findings with stakeholders
  • Pushing forward our ideas with the support from the TMP ETL

I am truly excited to be part of this group and look forward to building projects together.

If you (or someone you know) happen to be a TPM PhD candidate with energy-related interests, do join us! Look at this announcement: https://intranet.tudelft.nl/-/doe-mee-met-de-phd-groep-van-het-energy-transition-lab?redirect=%2F. Or, you can email me at a.martinezreyes@tudelft.nl, and I will add you to the group.

 

Happy 2022!

Energy Justice in a World in Flux

At the recent COP26 in Glasgow, Kadri Simons, European Commissioner for energy, said the following:

When we talk about the energy transition, we are talking about radically changing our way of life – for the better […] This will be a transition of hearts and minds.

We can’t forget that some people, some communities, will face greater challenges than others.

If the only livelihood you or generations of your family have ever had is based on fossil fuels, then the transition could be a rather frightening prospect.

We believe that the just transition is a key issue of the climate fight: we must leave no one behind.

This is why the EU has made just transition a key pillar of the European Green Deal – our energy and climate strategy.

This speech illustrates that the question of justice is gaining prominence in the domain of energy policy. And it should be, because after all the goal of the energy transition is to make the world a better place to live in.

Also in academic research, the topic of energy justice is given more and more attention. Especially the tenet-based approach is popular. This approach provides a framework by which energy policies can be evaluated on: the way they distribute benefits and ills; the fairness by which decision-makers engage with the people who are affected by these policies are executed; and the remediation of the section of society that are ignored or underrepresented.

To engage with this emerging topic, the TPM Energy Transition Lab has set up a series of seminars in which the researchers from the faculty have shown their take on energy justice. The following themes have been addressed so far:

  • Reflections on the tenet-approach to energy justice
  • Energy justice in countries from the Global South
  • The role that modelling methods can play in normative issues
  • The inclusion of marginalised groups in the European transition policy

These themes most certainly deserve more extensive and in-depth investigation. Moreover, there are other themes that are still waiting to be explored, but what can be inferred at this moment is that our research reveals that the tenet-based approach works well as an evaluative framework for given policies, but it is also a framework that is very much static. This can be problematic given the fact that the energy transition is not so much the transformation of the economy, it is the transformation of the sociotechnical systems that underlie the economy. This implies that we are dealing with a situation that is fundamentally dynamic, and justice frameworks should account for these dynamics. We should consider justice for a world in flux. I think that at TPM, we are the designated group to take on this challenge, as I will explain below.

However, I will first introduce a number of deeply interrelated factors that are subjected to change in the energy transition that will have an impact on justice issues:

  • An obvious point is that technologies New energy systems will bring about new practices and routines. What these new practices and routines will exactly lead up to is highly uncertain, but they will surely have an impact on the distribution between ills and benefits. The changes in technology have an effect on many factors as well, as can be seen below.
  • The concepts with which we understand reality and measure progress change. For instance, think about the way that the energy transition is predominantly understood in terms of the decarbonisation of the economy. The speech of Kadri Simons already hints that this understanding has now come to include socio-economic issues as well. As the transition proceeds, we may expect more attention for material flows and the exhaustion of scarce metals. Other concepts that may change is our conception of climate change itself. Now the climate is seen is ‘nature’ that is being polluted by mankind, but for instance due to geo-engineering we may come to see the climate as a ‘manmade’ thing.
  • Values that we cherish today, may be replaced by values we do not have ‘discovered’ yet. Related to the energy transition, we now emphasise energy security, affordability and sustainability as key values. It was not that long ago that we did not know the value of sustainability was added. In fact, sustainability and ecological awareness are new values to start with, conquering nature by technical dominance has been a driving force to measure progress until at least the 1950s. Also energy security and affordability may change: black-outs may become obsolete or regularities; energy poverty a relic of the past, or accepted as a fact of life.
  • Not only values, but also the moral principles by which we asses justice may prove to be volatile. Currently most attention goes out to groups and communities who suffer from the energy transition in terms of recognition and well-being. Justice means that ‘everyone gets what’s due’, what that means however can be understood differently and will also be applied differently in different contexts.
  • Indeed, the people that are affected by the energy transition may change over time. In other words, those who are the winners and losers of the transition today, may not be the winners and losers in the longer run. In this respect it is interesting to see how fossil fuel companies increasingly picture themselves as the victims of the energy transition, while these are always seen as the epitaph of incumbency. For instance, Ben van Beurden, CEO of Shell, felt it was unfair to the company that the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that the oil company has to reduce its carbon emissions by 45% in 2030.
  • This volatility of moral issues has to do with the fact that energy transition policies form wicked problems. These are problems about which there is no agreement on the problem definition and the solution. Such wicked problems are dealt with in society in moral terms. Policies are not right or wrong, they are good or bad. And as society is characterised by moral pluralism, there will always be section who become angry with any policy.
  • If the distributive and procedural effects of policies are perceived to be unjust or if groups of people feel ignored they will not accept these policies and projects. They will come to protest the legitimacy of the energy transition, creating delay or even the termination of the decarbonisation policies. However, these feelings of injustice emerge as a reaction to proposed policies, from these societal reactions new values and concerns emerge that need to be taken into account if one aspires a transition that accounts for all relevant values.
  • Related to this issue is that policies and projects are usually seen as discrete events that can be evaluated as isolated processes, while energy controversies are characterised by spill-overs ­– they are inspired by conflicts that have taken place elsewhere. For instance, the discussion about shale gas exploration in the Netherlands has been motivated by debates taking place in the US and in the UK. It cannot be predicted whether and which type spill-overs will take place, meaning that decision-makers cannot anticipate the way in which society will assess a certain energy policy.
  • A just energy transition is not a mere European matter. History has a long tail and the injustices caused by colonialism tend to persist. On the one hand, this is manifested in transition that take place within former colonies which are too often still characterised by failing institutions, socio-economic inequality and corruption. On the other hand, and this is not often realised, the renewable energy system reproduces colonial patterns of the fossil-based energy system. One may only think of the materials that are mined under bad labour conditions in the global South, while rich countries enjoy the clean energy at the other end of the supply chain.

This tentative list of justice-related issues that are in flux means that a static framework does not suffice. So, what is so special about TPM that it is precisely our faculty can contribute to our further command of energy justice? I think this is because we are not afraid to break down silos between different disciplines, but we are ready align the attention for values, governance and systems’ engineering. Just to mention some strengths, there is expertise on participatory methods, controversy research, dealing with empirical and normative uncertainties, value change, energy democracy, and institutional economics. Bringing these strengths together will allow TPM to develop a unique approach to energy justice in a world that is in flux ­– and make the world a bit better.

Presenting at Beyond Oil 2021

Beyond Oil 2021 has been the second conference I attended this year. I was happy that I could attend it online, as I had to travel to my home country for an emergency. This, clearly was another illustration of the advantages of online conferences. Though, I also admit I miss the feel of offline conferences. The conference had a hybrid format and I think this challenge was well handled. On two days researchers presented their work related to the much-needed transition towards a more sustainable society. The program was filled with case studies and conceptual work, the role of individuals, of institutions, of structures was addressed, power, justice and politics as well as innovations were themes of presented work. A great mix, that indicates the complex nature of the challenge humanity is facing.

I presented my ongoing research. Due to the format of the parallel sessions I had to squeeze content in an 8-minute presentation. Admittedly, I liked this format because it left much space for a long panel discussion. The slides of my presentation are below. As you can see, I had to keep it superficial. Nonetheless, I hope it gave an insight into what I am working on. The title of my contribution is a bit wordy: “Behavioral change for a socio-economic transition: linking system with individual behavior in complex systems.” However, I think it nicely summarizes my work. I am looking at a) how individual action or behavior connects with the system in which the individual is embedded and b) how behavior in conjunction with the embeddedness within the system can contribute to a transformation of our socio-economic system.

Slides of the presentation held at the Beyond oil 21 conference

My presentation started with a quote from Greta Thunberg from one of her recent talks at the youth4climate summit. There she said: “Build back better. Blah, blah, blah. Green economy. Blah blah blah. Net zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah,”. I started with this quote as I was hoping to catch people’s attention, but more importantly Greta nicely brought to a point a finding of my own research.

Greta’s statement fits to the findings of what composes what I call unfortunate resilience. While I believe that I am the creator of this term, I have not invented the idea of this concept. Within socio-ecological systems theory it is understood that some system may not change, although it would be good if it did change. Olsson, Galaz et al. (2014) write about this concept, stating that others have called it “rigidity trap” or “bad resilience”. The former already indicates that unfortunate resilience is tightly connected to lock-ins. It is the idea that a system can get locked-in in an undesirable state. It is undesirable because in the long run it is not possible to maintain equilibrium and thus instead of slow adaptations, such lock-ins will mount in a system collapse.

To grasp this point one may look at the interconnectedness of systems and subsystems presented in socio-ecological system theory. Walker, Holling et al. (2004) discuss and illustrate aspects of resilience. One of these aspects is called Panarchy which refers to the idea that the state of a system affects the state of all other connected systems. For example, the socio-economic system (lower system) is embedded in the ecological system (higher system). The lower system can create an imbalance on the higher level, which at some point in time will also lead to an imbalance of the lower system. Burning fossil fuels has created an imbalance in nature. Nature’s way of dealing with this is climate change. Climate change in turn affects humans. When the imbalance in the natural sphere has reached a certain magnitude, the systems humans have created and even the very existence of humans are threatened and will collapse at some point. The systems created by humans should adapt or transform based on the information that human actions cause an imbalance in nature.

Without getting too far on the topic of adaptations versus transformation, I want to note that whether an adaptation is sufficient depends on how much something needs to change. If you want to read more about the difference between adaptation and transformation, I am referring you to the work of Folke, Carpenter et al. (2010). Adaptations are rather small changes. The ability to adapt is part of what constitute someone’s or something’s resilience. A transformation is however a large-scale change. Think of the caterpillar and the butterfly (transformation) compared to finches having different beaks (adaptation) depending on the environment they live in.

The concept of unfortunate resilience is connected to the idea of maladaptation. Olsson, Galaz et al. (2014) summarize maladaptation to a system being high in resilience. So high that it reaches a threshold beyond which it is actually no longer able to adapt. Thus, it is a state of excess resilience. It is a point where resilience becomes rigidity. Resilience often has this notion of flexibility (Walker, Holling et al. 2004), though is seems like the state of unfortunate resilience is one in which the sustenance of a status quo creates a rigidity, a lock-in, that at one stage will culminate in collapse.

What constitutes unfortunate resilience, though? I am sure I have overlooked many factors contributing to the unfortunate resilience of the current socio-economic system. I suppose that there need to be many factors to create a strong unfortunate resilience. However, the factors I want to list are 1) buffers, 2) narratives and 3) psychological defense mechanisms.

As I have mentioned during my talk, one important factor that I do not mention is power. Power as a factor constituting unfortunate resilience needs much more attention than I could dedicate it so far in my current research endeavor. Though, I want to highlight that it is relevant to reflect about questions such as who creates narratives and thus supports psychological defense mechanisms? It needs to be acknowledged that the power to create and steer a discourse is key in shaping the track human society got locked in (Biely, Maes et al. 2018).

The buffers I included so far are of economic and technological nature. Buffers do not address the root cause of a problem and have the effect that they reduce the perceived urgency of a problem. For example, a flood insurance may reduce a house owner’s perceived urgency of doing something against climate change, when the damage a flood has created is covered by an insurance. Farmers in countries where governments support them in case of natural catastrophes destroying their harvest may feel less urgency than farmers who do not get such financial support. Another example that is more indirect, are carbon offsets. I may not perceive the urgent need to quit flying, if I can monetarily compensate for the emissions I have created. The thought having planted some trees somewhere in the world with one click may make it much easier to enjoy a flight with good conscious. Technological buffers are those that maintain or increase human’s wellbeing or comfort despite deteriorating environmental conditions. I come from a country where air conditions were not common. With summers getting hotter more and more people install air conditions. This allows people to better bare high temperatures in summer, but it also reduces the perceived urgency to do something about the root cause of the problem.

The second factor, narratives, refers to the blah, blah. In a sense they also reduce the perceived urgency to tackle the problem and they neither address the root cause of the problem. All the green growth, green economy, green, tech, sustainable growth, inclusive growth, net zero, negative emissions, build back better talk fits to the weak sustainability blah blah which is based on technology myopia and a trust in market mechanisms (Biely, Maes et al. 2018). It deserves a blog post on its own, but narratives are the reason why despite working on a technology University, I am not a fan of the socio-technical transition theory. I promise I will write about this soon.

Before I turn to psychological defense mechanisms, I want to expand a bit on the connectedness of factors. Factors that constitute unfortunate resilience do not stand alone but build a mesh that connects factors with each other on societal as well as on individual level. The narrative that green tech and thus the green economy will save us is backed up by people experiencing how technology buffers the negative effects of e.g. climate change. Technology seems to have an answer to all the problems and the narrative of green economy tells us that we will be able to afford these technologies and that by creating a green economy we do not have to give up anything. Narratives are told on a societal level. We want to create a green, inclusive economy. A narrative proliferated by policy makers, businesses, private as well as public international conglomerates and institutions. Individuals are not living in a vacuum but are interconnected with their environment. And thus, individuals affect and are affected by society.

Psychological defense mechanisms are the last factor I want to mention. I love to refer to the infographic made by Mathew Adams (Adams 2017) because it illustrates the complexity of the matter. It shows at a glance that we are fighting against many defense mechanisms when we want to change our own behavior. The infographic provides little examples which show that these are (at least partially) based on general narratives. I also want to refer to the recent book of Weintrobe (2021) who connects denial (a defense mechanism) with trust in human ingenuity (I wrote about the book here). I suppose how and which narratives and buffers (and maybe other factors) fuel psychological defense mechanisms is a research project on its own. Though, it seems that those who have made the connection argue to replace the faulty narratives with others that are more realistic (see eg. Weintrobe, 2021).

Replacing an unrealistic with a more realistic narrative may help humans to invest energy in real solutions. Let me first go back to the unfortunate resilience, where I established that this is a state of rigidity. Adaptation is locked-in actions that do not really solve the problem. If humanity wants to omit a collapse energy needs to be invested into restoring flexibility. Thus, we need to free our mind and come up with innovative ways to handle the challenges humanity is facing. It seems that such innovation would call for transformation, rather than for adaptation. We would have to think about innovations in how we organize our economy, as well as our political system. Though, in order to free the mind we first may need to grief old narratives (O’Connor and Woodard 2021).

So far so good. Though, who is going to start this process of grieving old narratives? To answer this, one may want to consult the old but ongoing debate between structuralists and individualists. While I think both schools provide some insight, I think they need to be combined. The structure does not exist, without its parts, and parts do not exist in isolation. Given the fact that this blog post is anyway already way too long, I will just refer to the potential usefulness of practice theory to understand how individuals and structure are connected.

Much more needs to be stated, but I will stop here with the promise to write about the insights I got so far about transition processes.

References:

Adams, M. (2017). Climate change, sustainability & psychosocial defence mechanisms: infographic.

Biely, K., D. Maes and S. Van Passel (2018). “The idea of weak sustainability is illegitimate.” Environment, Development and Sustainability 20(1): 223-232.

Biely, K., D. Maes and S. Van Passel (2018). “Market Power Extended: From Foucault to Meadows.” Sustainability 10(8): 2843.

Folke, C., S. R. Carpenter, B. Walker, M. Scheffer, T. Chapin and J. Rockström (2010). “Resilience Thinking: Integrating Resilience, Adaptability and Transformability.” Ecology and Society 15(4).

O’Connor, J. and W. Woodard (2021). “Editorial: The climate crisis, clinical work and the work of mourning.” Ata: Journal of Psychotherapy Aotearoa New Zealand 25(1): 7-9.

Olsson, P., V. Galaz and W. J. Boonstra (2014). “Sustainability transformations: a resilience perspective.” Ecology and Society 19(4).

Walker, B., C. S. Holling, S. R. Carpenter and A. Kinzig (2004). “Resilience, adaptability and transformability in social–ecological systems.” Ecology and Society 9(2).

Weintrobe, S. (2021). Psychological Roots of the Climate Crisis: Neoliberal Exceptionalism and the Culture of Uncare. New York, London, Bloomsbury Academic.

Modelling complexity in the energy transition

‘The pieces are moving’

J.R.R. Tolkien

Over the years, it has become clearer and clearer: the energy transition is taking shape. Research on the energy transition also evolves. In the TPM Energy Transition Lab, we aim to take an interdisciplinary approach to expand our knowledge on ‘what works’ and ‘what doesn’t’, when it comes to the coming decades in the energy transition. We bring smart people together, each with their own perspective and expertise to see where transition insights are complementary or clash. We started sketching a map of the energy transition, with ‘simulation modelling’ as our pencils.

Simulating complexity

Simulating the complexity of the energy transition may help to unravel many of the challenges and trade-offs. Modelling forces you to think extremely systematically: if you translate something into computer code you have to be very clear and specific about it or it will either not compute or make no sense. This is often a painful process: to crystallize your ideas, decide what you leave behind and what you take on board. Ideally, you do not get lost. Or if you do, hopefully in the end you get out of your modelling crisis (read more in this blog or listen to me explaining it below).

Escaping the modelling crisis

Simple rules create complex patterns

If you do it right, modelling is elegant and you can see the complexity unfold before your eyes. The process of developing and using models can be a real inspiration. I see merit in the systematicness of all modelling methods; I have a specific appreciation for a specific modelling method with which I model so-called ‘agents’ that represent individual entities. Why? Well, for example, you start understanding how it is only simple rules which can explain complicated patterns… for example how groups of birds flock together. Can you come up with simple rules for individual birds that would describe the patterns you see below? And can you translate those into computer code?

Beautiful patterns of flocking birds

How to look at the world

This made me look at the world differently. I started connecting ‘how systems evolve’ to ‘how individuals behave’ (and what governs that behavior): how economic crises emerge out of the behavior of banks governed by ‘the rules of the system’, how traffic jams emerge out of how individual cars drive, and how hard it is to translate global climate policy goals into regional/local action. By developing and studying many simulation models, I started to be able to switch perspectives, getting accustomed to think how changes in the behavior of individuals may have a rippling effect on the system. And where opportunities lie to shape the developments of the system as a whole.

Policy for the energy transition

For the energy transition, a key challenge is how to develop effective policy. This is a complicated question: lots of things matter for what makes policies effective. What technologies and system cost and how financing is arranged, complexities due to the multi-stakeholder nature of energy systems, all kinds of physical interdependencies between technological systems, and behavioral aspects of people, business and governments (see http://emlab.tudelft.nl/yfactor/ for an introduction to such factors and this scientific article). And how do the many policies interact? And what if different countries have different strategies?

Phasing out support for renewables

In a recent paper, Marc Melliger and I show how easy it is to be misled by a policy success. Wind and solar energy are becoming competitive; governments may see this as a signal to take away policy support. We explored through many simulated scenarios the possible downsides to such policy changes in the Netherlands and Germany. Taking the perspective of the behavior of individual firms, we simulated how investors in electricity generators may react to ongoing and changing market developments and policy. We used empirically observed investment preferences and state-of-the-art agent-based simulations and analyzed resulting system patterns. And we find it is risky to take away support – it may make us miss our wind and solar targets – so we ought to hold on to it: better be safe than sorry! Read more in this blog or this scientific article)

Join us

As I started out with, we try to sketch a map of the energy transition by simulating its complexities. We hope to understand better how the transition may unfold and how we can avoid unnecessary mistakes. We aim to add more and more color, integrating perspectives and disciplines researching the transition. Reach out if you want to know more and join us for the ride!

Emile Chappin, e.j.l.chappin@tudelft.nl

Energy transition: yes GHGs reduction but also social inequality reduction

The energy transition is commonly framed as a shift from a fossil-fueled to a zero-carbon-fueled energy system (IRENA, 2020). However, climate change is not the only issue that our society faces, as clearly stated by the United Nations with the Sustainable Development Goals. Many societies across the globe face socio-economic inequality issues such as poverty, safety, gender inequality, racism and exclusion of minority groups, lack of access to basic resources and services, among many others. Although the energy system seems to have no clear connection with these issues, as a matter of fact, it does. The energy system is often seen as a network of techno-economic sectors that provide and regulate energy services. However, the energy system is sustained by natural resources and ecosystem services of the environment, and whose ecosystems host people and communities with their own cultures and customs. When looking at the energy system as embedded in societies and ecosystems, it is not difficult to notice that the ecological and societal issues permeate the energy system and vice-versa. Therefore, changes in the energy system have the potential to exacerbate or to help solve societal and ecological issues. To make sure that the energy transition positively contributes to ecosystems and societies, researchers and practitioners must acknowledge the socio-economic inequalities of which the energy system is part.

Below I enlist some examples of socio-economic inequalities, which the energy transitions may help to solve:

  • Reduction of poverty. Energy systems can be designed to provide good quality energy services to all. People can be prosumers of the energy system. Clean and affordable energy generation projects can be the seed to many local businesses beyond the electricity market. Special care needs to be taken when there is a risk of job losses due to the energy transition. For example, coal mining communities should have the option to be part of the transformed energy system to avoid unemployment.
  • Gender equity. The energy sector lags behind with closing the gender gap with a lack of women participation in leadership positions due to structural and cultural challenges (IEA, 2018). All genders (including non-binary) should be represented in the sector to seek inclusive energy transition pathways.
  • Similarly, minority groups differentiated by ethnicity, age, religion, gender, among others, have the right to be included in the energy transition so that the future energy system considers their energy needs. The reconfiguration of the energy system can be sensitive to local’s economic-development views.

Moreover, the energy transition should mitigate any further impact that it may cause such as land use, landscape impact, livelihood impacts, among other environmental and social impacts.

Energy transitions can be used as opportunities to acknowledge and redefine roles and reconfigure the energy system so that the ecological and socio-technological transformation contributes not only to solving climate change but also other socio-economic inequalities.

The road to risky research in a safe environment

“You have to color outside the lines once in a while if you want to make your lab a masterpiece.”
Inspired by Albert Einstein

Dam at end of Fassa Valley in Dolomites.

In April 2020, we founded the TPM Energy Transition Lab at Delft University of Technology. At the start, the dean of our faculty (Technology, Policy, and Management) challenged us to color outside the lines and to not be too afraid of failure. We translated this into a motto for the ET Lab: “Risky research in a safe environment”.

Objective

The objective of the TPM Energy Transition Lab is to facilitate, design, and execute boundary-crossing research that can speed up energy transitions. More specifically, we aim to provide researchers in our faculty with a safe environment for risky research related to two important themes: behavior in and design of energy transitions. To reach this objective, we signaled two conditions: (1) an interdisciplinary research perspective and (2) sufficient resources (time, money, and tools). In our strategic plan, we explained as follows why these conditions are important but hardly ever met.

Interdisciplinary perspective

Energy transition is a widely investigated topic in several domains. However, research is typically descriptive, model-based, or rooted in a singular theory paradigm. Simultaneously, research is often limited to discipline-specific silos, focusing either on social, technical, economic, and institutional aspects, but hardly ever altogether. An integrated interdisciplinary perspective, that looks into the interplay and co-evolution of these aspects can pave the way for novel theories and research methods. Furthermore, it can open up innovative tools for supporting decision-making in energy transitions. This interdisciplinary research perspective aligns well with the concept of team science. Team science is when scientists from various fields and with various skills work collaboratively toward the resolution of major societal issues, such as sustainable transitions. This could lead to a deeper understanding of the topic at hand and efficiently produced scientific discoveries that are more readily applicable. Furthermore, team science improves motivation because team members execute tasks that suit their expertise and talents (e.g., Allen, Smith, Thoman, and Walters, 2018).

“Team science improves motivation”

Team science comes with a challenge though. Research projects are temporary and there is often no time for proper introduction or team building. How to handle that? Business school professor Amy Edmondson shares the elements needed to turn a group of strangers into a quick-thinking team that can adequately respond to grand challenges in this TED talk.

Resources

The fast-changing dynamics of energy transitions call for rapid – and sometimes risky – research. Stated differently, to contribute to society with valuable insights, energy transition researchers must act quickly and adequately. An internal survey learned us that many researchers – like myself – are lacking the resources needed for this: time, money, and research tools. We cannot free up our busy schedules in which we are juggling teaching, research, management, and other services on short notice. Moreover, current funding structures provide virtually no opportunities to apply for “quick” research grants. This lack of resources, unfortunately, results too often in abandoning our boundary-crossing research ideas that could speed up the energy transition. 

Seeding money

In our lab, we provide seeding grants to support a broad set of high-risk “quick” activities – in a safe environment of course – to facilitate action on rapid developments and opportunities. We have built a research playground to which we invite faculty researchers and students to submit proposals for any type of activity that fits the lab’s mission. See for an overview of funded research: https://www.tudelft.nl/en/tpm/energy-transition-lab/themes/open-exploration-of-the-energy-transition

One-stop-research-shop

Another way to supply support and resources is the one-stop-research-shop we are developing (i.e. an online platform). We aim to facilitate our research by arranging – in a centralized way – all aspects of research. This includes ethical protection, data management, and participant recruitment, -consent, and –payment. Furthermore, the lab lays the foundations for a lending service of technical research equipment (“technotheek”). This development is in progress, we hope to give you more information soon!

Our road

This blog tells you in short about our road to a safe environment for risky research on energy transitions. Let’s conclude with the quote on top of this blog, inspired by Albert Einstein: “You have to color outside the lines once in a while if you want to make your lab a masterpiece.”

Two paths one goal

How to break path dependency? That is my starting point. Path dependency refers to the idea that past decisions determine or at least influence present and future options and decisions. An example; the educational path you chose has an effect on the jobs you will be qualified for. A change might be possible, but there will be costs related. The earlier you change the lower these costs will be. If you figure out at the beginning of your educational path that it is not the right thing for you, costs are still relatively low. If you figure it out shortly before you graduate, costs are substantially higher. If you are working on a job for years and figure out you want to change to a completely different field, you may have to deal with a substantially lower income when starting fresh. There are many examples of path dependencies.

In my research I do not apply the notion of path dependency to a specific technology or a specific policy, but rather to the socio-economic system as a whole. The argument is that the current socio-economic system which is based on the paradigm of unlimited growth is unsustainable. No matter which technologies are invented, as long as they are embedded into the current socio-economic system, they will not deliver the wished outcome, sustainability. Thus, we need to shift from the current socio-economic system to a new distinct socio-economic system. Though, how can we do this and why has it not happened already? To answer these questions I am following two research routs.

System level

I suggest in order to understand how we can transition from one socio-economic system to another one, we have to understand why this transition is not taking place. I frame this the unfortunate resilience of the current socio-economic system. I want to understand why the socio-economic system is not transitioning by taking an upside-down perspective on resilience. I am searching for factors, mechanisms and structures constitute the resilience of the current system. Hopefully, by identifying these factors, mechanisms and structures I will gain insights on how they can be overcome.

An aiding tool to understand transition is the development of a new sustainability transition concept. This concept includes insights from resilience theory, path dependency theory, systems thinking, socio-technical transition as well as socio-ecological transition theory. While the concept does display the greater system level, I am combining it with the individual level. This is as the structures that create our socio-economic system are connected to human behavior. Reoccurring behavior forms institutions and institutions form behavior. Both sides are intertwined, and the solution will have to deal with both.

Individual level

The transition envisaged has not happened so far, thus it can only be studied in theory. However, there are individual cases of transitions. Research indicates that citizens in the developed world will have to cut their footprint by 90% in order to achieve the climate targets. If that does not call for drastic changes, I do not know what does. Taking drastic changes is scary, yet there are people who voluntary make these changes. I am referring here to people who do not use a private car, who live a zero waste or zero plastic lifestyle, who have a vegan diet, live minimalistic and who refuse to fly. For sure some of these changes are more drastic than others. Though, that depends on the respective situation. My preferred example is the car. In some regions not going by private car is easy and almost the norm. In other regions not having a car is not an option. If people managed to undergo such drastic changes in their personal life it might be possible to upscale it. By studying how such changes came about and what barriers people had to deal with we may find out how others could do the same. On the other side of the spectrum are those, which is the majority of the population, who did not undergo a drastic change. On this side, it is interesting to know what perceptions bout such drastic lifestyle changes are, which ones would be most favorable and what would increase the likelihood of giving it a try?

At the end, both research routs will hopefully be combined to provide insights on how we can overcome path dependencies and facilitate a transition towards sustainability.

International system dynamics conference

The International System Dynamics Conference 2021 is the first conference I participated working for Delft Technical University. I submitted work about transition and human behavior. Because my work was not yet that well developed, I submitted to the feedback session. I was hoping to get feedback from experienced system dynamics practitioners.

Already in preparation for the conference I got feedback on my Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) from an experienced system dynamics practitioner working at Delft Technical University. I have been using CLD before and I never managed to get to a stock and flow model.

Ok, back to the start! What is a CLD? (If you know what it is skip the part and go to the next heading) A Causal Loop Diagram is a tool that helps to understand and visualize causal connections among different objects. I am going to explain with a common example in system dynamics. The more people there are the more birth one can observe. Obviously, the more children are born the more people there are. The same would also work in the opposite direction. Hence the less children born, the lower the population number. The variables are connected in a reinforcing manner. Thus, both either increase or decrease. Not only the beginning of life is affected but also the end of it. The higher the population number the more people are dying. The more people are dying the lower the population number. In contrast to the birth-population loop, the death-population loop is a balancing loop. This is as the variables move in opposite directions; one increases while the other decreases. When one looks at the overall behavior of the variable population, one can see the beauty of systems thinking. Death and births affect population and the CLD illustrates this nicely. Of course, this is a simple example. Systems thinking can be used for much more complex situations and it is in these instances where this way of thinking can help understanding the matter at hand. Now imagine that there is a chain of reaction so to say. By following the chain of reaction one can better understand how a change in the system can affect a distant variable.

Causal loop diagram

If the system is very complex the change in one part of the system can lead to changes along the rest of the system which are hard to predict without the help of a computer model. This is where system dynamics comes into play. The formulation of a stock and flow model (computer model that can be simulated) is however not necessary. The question is what the purpose of systems thinking is. I have been in the field of systems thinking for a while now and I know that some experts would raise serious objections stating that a CLD is useless without system dynamics. I think however that already mapping out connections is helpful and can be a great learning exercise. This can be observed in group model building exercises where potentially for the first-time participants have to illustrate their mental model. Not only that this can be reveling in itself, it can also be revealing to understand how different people see the world.

Stock and flow model

The starting point

I am now at the stage of trying to transform my CLD into a stock and flow model so that I can see the effect of certain interventions. I have submitted my CLD to get feedback from others. I have to highlight that this strategy worked very well. I was delighted to see that all four reviews pointed out that I am on something interesting. The same was iterated during the feedback session. I am kind of proud that the chair called my research intriguing. The positive feedback makes me optimistic that following this path can be fruitful. Admittedly, I am doubting my own work and so positive feedback is helpful.

I got even more positive feedback from several people contacting me before or during the conference. People were curious about my contribution and so I shared my preliminary work. I know from one person that there is a bit of disagreement on who is going to be the actor of change. However, this transition has never taken place, so it is all theory. Hence who is wrong or right can only be proven after the fact. Personally, I think it is pivotal that researchers take different avenues. The sustainability problems we are facing are enormous and urgent. It would be foolish to just bet on one horse.

Conferencing

My feedback session was on the first conference day. Thus, I could enjoy the rest of the conference. For all conferences this is always the preferred day for me. I was also volunteering at the conference, so some work needed to be invested aside from learning and listening.

I like conferences. Not because of the networking to be honest. I am a bit of an introvert, even if I like my 5 minutes of fame in the spotlight during my presentation. The amount of people is just too overwhelming for me. These slightly awkward small talks, this searching for and looking at the name tag to start off a conversation, this over and over repeating of one’s own story or this unintended interference in a meeting of old conference friends. Despite my introversion I usually “perform” well on conferences. Once one gets past the initial awkwardness, I enjoy a little talk with interesting people. I also enjoy the conference dinner, with the obligatory talk about my diet (people see I eat something different, and they ask why) and I love field trips. The travel is one of the nicest parts of a conference even if there is only time for a short stroll in the conference area.

Although this was an online conference, I could network quite a lot. More than usual I would even say. I do not know why that is. Partly I suppose because I have been contacted by people, partly because I was actively looking for support in advancing my research and partly because of volunteering. It was also great that all sessions were recorded so one could watch it at a later point (or even re-watch!). This is not only great because of different time-zones and one not being forced to stay up until 4 am. It is also great because often there are interesting talks at the same time. Usually, one would need to skip all but one. However, the recordings make it possible to get even more out of the conference.

I really enjoyed the talks and it was great to see in how many fields system dynamics is applied. Furthermore, the conference provided opportunities to learn something new in workshops and it provided possibilities to connect with more experienced systems thinkers. I have to highlight that this was one of the best things of the conference. Before I have indicated that I am at the step to develop a stock and flow model. However, I am slightly overwhelmed and do not know how to begin. The conference definitively helped me in this regard. I have signed up for mentoring and will meet my mentor soon. Also, the chair in my feedback session offered the opportunity to have a talk. This talk was also useful. Moreover, I think I am at least with one foot in a community where I have more learning opportunities in the coming months. I have signed up for another workshop and I will follow some more meetings in the next weeks. For the volunteering part I was a bit scared that volunteers would be overburden with work. This was not at all the case. The organizers where those with the main burden and the volunteers were really just there to help. The organizers have for sure not slept much during (maybe even before) the conference. I had a very good experience volunteering, and I can only recommend it. Chapeau to the organizers!!! Though, this chapeau is not limited to organizing volunteer w

Transition / transformation / adaptation?

In another blog I will discuss my struggle with the transition-term. However, in this blog post I will show you what the TPM ETLab team discussed during a workshop, which took place on the 13th of July 2021. I facilitated the workshop, provided tasks that should help me to get an outside perspective on transition and illustrate that there is quite some ambiguity pertaining transition terminology.

Just to give some background information. I have already indicated that I am struggling with the transition term. This is as transition theory literature describes processes, being termed transition, which are however, not transitions in my understanding. Not only that I want to know what a transition is, I also want to know, which alternative term I may have to use to describe the type of change I envision as well as how I can illustrate this specific change.

I prepared three tasks, all of them were related to the terms transition, adaptation, evolution, revolution and transformation. The terms were written on a flipchart sheet and displayed separately in the meeting room. All three participants became material to work with, A4 sheets of paper, sticky notes and pens and colored felt pens.

Generally, it needs to be noted that although the TPM ETLab deals with the energy transition, I wanted participants to think about transitions in general. Indeed, they could apply all exercises to the energy system, if they wanted to. Though, none of them did. They all thought outside the box. To me this is relevant as I suppose that the discussed terms should be applicable to most circumstances in a similar way. Moreover, I am interested in the mental models. Thus, I wanted to know to which field, for example, are participants connecting specific terms. To me this is relevant to know, because it makes me aware of different mental models that people apply to the same term. In writing about transition this awareness may equip me with the ability to better bring my message across as I will know how a term could be “mis-interpreted.” In some exercise I already did beforehand, I could already see that we are not only applying different concepts to terms but we also have different imaginaries of these terms. This became apparent in the workshop as well.

Before starting my quest, I thought it might be possible to come up with one illustration of transition that will make sense to everyone. An image that conveys a specific message without much explanation needed. Pertaining science communication this would have been the optimal case. Though, I figured that this may not be possible as imaginaries of the same term are very different from person to person. While I may not be able to design the perfect illustration, exercises performed within this workshop help me to become aware of design features that can be interpreted differently. Thus, I 1) have to be careful how these features are used and 2) I need to pay close attention to these features when I explain my illustrations.

What were the three tasks?

  1. Participants needed to write down a concept, term or idea that they connect with one of the discussed transition terms (transition, adaptation, evolution, revolution and transformation). Each idea should be on one stick note and the sticky notes were then placed on the respective flip chart. I had a look at each stick note but at this point did not discuss the provided ideas.
  2. Participants had to connect the terms with each other. Thus, how are transition, adaptation, evolution, revolution and transformation connected with each other? Are they synonyms, are they opposing each other, is one conditioning the other? Complete freedom was provided. Thus participants could use images, networks, bubbles, figures, numbers, etc. Participants could also indicate the closeness of terms to each other, by for example depicting them close to each other or drawing a thick line between them. In my role as facilitator I first gave as little guidance as possible to not bias participants. However, more guidance was needed, thus I provided the examples mentioned above. I also indicated that they already connected some terms since they used them as synonymy on the sticky notes. For example, evolution was on one stick note being placed on the adaptation flip chart. After receiving the illustrations, I discussed them to the extent I needed clarification. However, not detailed discussion took place at this point.
  3. The final task was to draw each term separately on a A4 sheet. The main requirement for this task was to illustrate the procedural character of the term. As the question came up, I specified that a timeline does not need to be displayed but that it could be if need be. Hence, participants had once more maximum freedom.

What was striking to me is that each of the three participants used different ways to express their mental model. This became apparent in task 2 and 3. What also became apparent is that there is least clarity and / or agreement pertaining the term transition and transformation. The meaning of and delineation from other terms seems to be stronger for evolution, revolution and adaptation. However, there I could also see disagreements.

This exercise has been performed with three people. And although all of them constantly deal with these terms there is not as much clarity and agreement pertaining these terms as I would have expected. The take home message for me thus is that when these terms are used they need to be defined as otherwise the reader will interpret them according to their mental model.

Let me now share the output

Task 1)

Adaptation:Transition:Evolution:Revolution:Transformation:
Avoid dangerChangeDarwin GuerillaButterfly
EvolutionS curveProgressReplacingTransformers (toy)
ClimateBorderDevelopingFrench RevolutionInnovation
Microlevel, same as transformation?Travel Bloody 
   Changing the way we think (Thomas Kuhn) 
summary of provided sticky notes for each term

Adaptation: here we can find two terms that are synonyms; transformation and evolution. From this it can be assumed that transformation, evolution and adaptation are closely related. Climate makes sense in combination with adaptation being a strategy to avoid a negative effects of climate change. Hence, avoid danger does also fit to the answers given.

Transition: the procedural character is strong here. Change has a procedural character similar to travel and journey. The S-curve is a concept from transition research and has also a procedural character as it describes phases of change. It is interesting that although all five terms describe some sort of change, the term change is only used for transition.

Evolution: all three terms provided have a procedural character. Progress has a positive connotation. At least it is related to some forward movement (pro-) in contrast to a backward movement (re-gress). Development can be interpreted in different ways. Something can also develop in a negative way. The reference to Darwin (not in the table, the participant drew seperate elements that depicted the object growing and developing) indicates a purposeful procedural change triggered by the environment. In that sense as stated for adaptation evolution is an adaptation to external (negative or changing conditions).

Revolution: the character of the terms suggested is unpleasant, disruptive, and violent. Thus, a revolution is in contrast to the other terms seen as something disruptive. Interesting is also the term replacing. Replacement could mean to exchange an old broken part with the same but new part. It could also mean to replace something old and broken with something entirely different. Say one needs to replace a light bulb, or one replaces a dictatorship with democracy. The disruptiveness of replacement can thus vary depending on the situation. A revolution can also be positive in this sense. If a dictatorship is replaced with a democracy, it could be understood as a positive change. The reference to Thomas Kuhn and the “way of thinking” can be related to the French Revolution. Both are about a paradigm shift related to how humans perceive the world. Interestingly the model developed by Thomas Kuhn culminates in the replacement of the old with the new paradigm which becomes the new norm.

Transformation: Butterfly (not in the table, the participant drew a butterfly) as well as the Transformers refer to a concept where one thing becomes something else. The Transformers modify their appearance though this is not permanent and can be reversed at will. The butterfly changes permanently, the change is not at will, but is a forced natural change. Both concepts have an element of surprise as one would not expect a caterpillar to become a butterfly and a car to become a talking robot with superpowers. For one participant transformation is synonymous to innovation. It is described as something formerly impossible or non-existent to become possible and existent. The way it is described it is connected to the butterfly image.

Task 2)

Concept connection provided by participant A
Concept connection provided by participant B
Concept connection provided by participant C

For one participant a transition is only a slight change, one that might not be seen with the naked eye. In contrast a transformation is a substantial change where one thing becomes something distinctively new. The evolution is described as a transformation 2.0. Thus, the transformation of something leads to an even better end-result. An interesting aspect in the illustration is that all three terms incorporate some event that seem to have triggered the process of change. Two conditions for change are provided, adaptation and revolution. Adaption seems to be related to the individual level whereat a revolution is understood to be on a group level. This is related to the terms and concepts that were provided before. Only the revolution of the mind could happen on individual as well as on group level. The reference to Thomas Kuhn though, could indicate that some revolution of the mind starts on individual level and is completed when all have taken over this new way of thinking.

For another participant transformation and transition seem to be synonymous, revolution seems to have a negative relation to evolution and evolution a positive with adaptation. Evolution and adaptation have been mentioned before as synonyms. Including the direction of the arrow it can be stated that evolution is positive for adaptation. In contrast revolution and evolution are antagonistic where revolution affects evolution negatively.

Finally, the third participant also includes the notion of macro and micro level. It is interesting to note that adaptation is again understood to be on the micro-level (individual), whereat revolution together with evolution is perceived to be a macro-level phenomenon. Another aspect of a previous conceptualization is taken up here; the connection between adaptation and evolution. Though in this case the relationship seems to be mutual. It is also noteworthy that this participant connects all terms with transformation. Thus, transformation seems to be synonymous with all other terms. This indicates that the other terms are much more distinct than the transformation term which seems to encompass a spectrum of meanings. The transition term seems to be unclear, and somehow related to evolution and revolution, but not with adaptation. This can be seen in contrast to the other two conceptualizations where 1) transition is a slight change or 2) the same as transformation.

Task 3)

At last, I asked the participants to draw the procedural character of the respective term. What is strikingly is that I only received 2 illustrations for transition both of which containing a question mark. This highlights the fuzziness of the term and that it is not clear at all what it means. The three different illustrations for (almost) each term show that the way each of the participants think differ greatly. One participant thought linear, one in time frames, and one in structures or concepts.

The first illustration of transition is in reference to the S-curve. It is combined with a question mark to illustrate the participants doubt about this concept (more can be read in this insightful blog post). The time horizon of a transition could be anything from seconds to millennia.

Adaptation has for one participant a negative connotation. It is to adapt to external circumstances and hence one is subject to change rather than the one who is instigating change. Therefore, one is in a dominated position which is understood to be negative. Also, the adaptation leads to further deterioration of the status quo, instead of an improvement.

In the first round the term climate adaptation was brought up. Indeed, this is not necessarily a positive idea. The climate change debate has shown a shift from fighting climate change, to mitigating and finally adapting to it. It has become an unavoidable circumstance one can only adapt to. In contrast to this another participant offered a rather neutral interpretation of adaptation which is the choice of one possible option of change. And finally, the time frame for adaptation seems to have a short time horizon of weeks and months.

Evolution gives a more positive impression, looking at the linear depiction. Though, I need to be aware of my own hermeneutics. The way my cognition is conditioned I interpret an upward sloping line as positive and a downward sloping line as negative. My interpretation of the line may however not be correct. This is something I will discuss in another blog in more depth. For now, let me state that I have clarified, and the participant understood evolution as a positive development. Participant two connected the concept of adaptation to the one of evolution (which is consistent to the previous ideas of this participant). The evolution seems to be the actual step of choosing one of the possible options. Though the choice is not guided by serendipity but rather by the circumstances. In that sense it fits to the negative idea of adaptation of the other participant where adaptation is a reaction to sub-optimal circumstances. Of all terms evolution has the longest time horizon. This is interesting as adaption and evolution have been connected by the other participants. One could understand evolution as the summative process of adaptions. Then it would make sense that adaptations only take months and evolutions take ages.

A revolution has a longer time horizon than an adaptation but does still take decades. Further it has also been depicted as a substantial change in the way the world is perceived. The analogy of changing from a geocentric to a heliocentric world view was presented. The linear illustration shows the disruptiveness of a revolution and the softer return to pre-revolution levels. I have asked whether it was intended that the end-line is higher than the starting line. While it was maybe not a deliberate move to have an altered end-result, the participant indicated that the end-result of the revolution may be better than the starting point.

Differently than transition, transformation was illustrated in different ways. Transformation seems to take as long as adaptation. It is not clear why that is. The images provided in the previous round do not indicate a close relation between transformation and adaptation. However, another participant depicted the process of innovation, by indicating the creation of an amphora out of clay. The linear illustration shows that transformation has an oscillating, upward trend. Thus, it is not as straight forward as evolution, which is an interesting differentiation.

The linear depiction shows that only adaptation seems to be negative. The other terms have a positive end-result. The positive end-result is however reached in different ways; direct path, oscillating, disruption followed by slow recovery. One could try to integrate the depictions of the terms to one major image. Then adaptation could be the downwards trends in revolution as well as in transformation. The upwards trend in transition and revolution could be the evolution illustration. In that sense evolution and adaption are aspects of transformation and revolution.

The time horizons could also indicate the connection between adaptation and evolution, where multiple adaptations make up evolution. Within this evolution time horizon, revolutions may take place.

For another participant adaptation and evolution are closely related, where the evolution is the actual “selection” of one option based on the respective circumstances. Adaptation seems to be more related to the potentiality of different options. The depiction of revolution as well as of transformation have a revolutionary character. The discovery of clay may have been as revolutionary as the discovery of the heliocentric model.

Conclusion

From this workshop I learned that participants connect evolution and adaptation in some way, that revolution as disruptive and on a macro-level. Evolution is too on a macro-level, while adaptation is on a micro-level. Adaptation might be understood as summative steps of or try and error phases to reach an evolution on a macro-level. However, there may also be some sort of connection between evolution and revolution.

Transformation and transition are sometimes synonyms and sometimes not. I can draw least conclusions about these two terms. They are sometimes described in a very precise way and sometimes very fuzzy. For one participant transformation and adaptation may be the same. This is inconsistent with a later depiction, where transformation is a crosscutting term and transition is rather something between revolution and evolution. Another person used transition and transformation as synonym but did then not provide the same illustration and description for these two terms. Transformation seems to be a clearer term than transition, though. This is worrying when considering that all participants are dealing with sustainability transition topics in their research.

My take home message is that when one talks or writes about transition, one needs to explain what is meant by that term. If it is not explained the mental model of the reader is applied. However, the mental model of the reader my not be the same as the mental model of the writer pertaining the transition term. To me this is a valuable lesson pertaining science communication.

Furthermore, to me it explains why I am troubled by a very well-known transition concept. I apply my mental model to this concept and this leads to confusion as the logic of this concept and my mental model do not add up. It tells me that those who developed and use this concept have a different mental model than I have and this on its own leads to miscommunication. For me the task is to either find or develop a concept that better fits my mental model of transition. If I succeed I am aware that I have to very clear when explaining this concept to avoid miscommunication.

If you want to give me feedback, please reach out!

How it all began

As you can see on the Energy Transition Lab webpage, one of the aims is to provide a save space for risky research. This is the dream for many researchers, I would argue. Risky means that you may perform research which does not lead to publishable output. In the scientific community all too often only the positive research results are communicated, the failures are swept under the rug. For sure, I as a researcher want to publish, since this is how I can improve my CV. Still having the freedom to do something risky is quite alluring.

Studying the kind of transition that we need is kind of futurology, since this has never happened before. The changes that we need will have to be substantial. Well, this may be up to debate for some. A wide-spread notion is that the transition we need is a repetition of transitions we did in the past. From firewood to fossil fuels, from horses to cars, from low input agriculture to high input agriculture. The struggle with the limits of our environmental system is not new, but a constant companion throughout human history. The technological innovations since the industrial revolution ostensibly removed these limitations. Though, the sustainability problems that we are facing show that this is not the case. Instead of thinking about how we can deal differently with limits, humanity seems to prefer to use the same strategy again. Humanity invests much resources to provide new innovations that are said to solve the problems we are facing. Though, I argue the problems are only shifted in time and space. This is by the way not new. Shifting a problem in time and space has always been the side-effect of applying some technological innovation.

Now, is technology bad? No. The question is how, is it used and to what end. Thus, when I started thinking about the energy transition, I had to think about the goal. Towards what are we transitioning, and what is transitioning? For me the energy transition is part of a sustainability transition. Hence, an energy transition must support a transition towards a state that is overall sustainable. In that sense, the energy transition is not limited to the energy system, but connects to a wider context.

As I have stated people have different views on what is needed to achieve sustainability. I am part of those people who understand that a fundamental change is needed. I understand technological innovations as quick fixes that shift problems in time and space instead of providing real solutions. In order to achieve sustainability underlying mechanisms and more importantly the underlying paradigm needs to change. That led me to the conclusion that a socio-technical transition is not far reaching enough, if it does not also include a socio-economic transition.

I think I need to give you some background information, so that you can understand where I am coming from. I am a systems thinker. Systems thinker see connections among everything and everything can be understood as a subsystem of some other system. Thus, a problem cannot be understood and addressed fully if not all relevant connections are captured. Ultimately the systems thinker searches for the root cause of a problem. The root cause of the sustainability problems we are facing is unlimited accumulation on a finite planet. The way we employ technologies is directed by this underlying mechanism. Thus, at some point accumulation will eat up the efficiency gains of a technology. So, my understanding is, that the technology is not the problem. The problem is the underlying structure of the socio-economic system into which each new technology needs to be embedded to be mainstreamed. For me the question then was, if we do want to achieve a sustainability transition how can we escape this structure? And then it became clear what my research will be about, breaking path dependencies.