The urgency of climate change means that low-carbon transitions are needed in large socio-technical systems such as energy and transportation. These transitions must be rapid, but also fair. An emerging body of evidence suggests that users have important roles in transitions, yet much previous research has examined user involvement while assuming it to be largely a positive force. This goes against a growing amount of evidence within sociotechnical studies that highlight the potentially obstructive or negative role that users may play in transitions and innovation. In this study, we pose a critical question: In what ways may users perpetuate injustices within a transition? To answer this question, we provide conceptual background on energy justice and user adoption of low-carbon energy and mobility technologies. We then analyse users and energy injustices in three low-carbon transitions – solar energy in Germany, electric vehicles in Norway, and smart meters in Great Britain – based on empirical data from interviews, focus groups, and internet forums. Our main contribution is to show how users in low-carbon transitions are not always positively engaged, or even neutral, but can introduce and contribute to inequality and exclusion.
Written by Mari Martiskainen, Benjamin K. Sovacool and Andrew Hook.