Centre for Climate and Energy Transformation (CET)
Research Project

The twin transition: Digitisation and low-carbon energy transitions

Digitisation enables the electrification of mobility. How can we ensure this transition is just? CET researcher Siddharth Sareen examines how digitisation can enable socially inclusive energy transitions in a new EU project.

image of a crowd in front of a stage with bicycles on the roof.
ROLES project will follow smart mobility transitions in Bergen from 2020-2023
Siddharth Sareen

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Digitisation enables the electrification of mobility. How can we ensure this transition is just? CET researcher Siddharth Sareen examines how digitisation can enable socially inclusive energy transitions in a new EU project.

Responsive Organising for Low Emission Societies (ROLES) is funded through the Joint Programming Initiative Climate Joint Transnational Call on “Enabling Societal Transformation in the Face of Climate Change” (SOLSTICE). The project involves partners in three countries: Norway, the United Kingdom and Italy.

The project focuses on three case studies in medium-sized European cities. In addition to smart mobility transitions in Bergen, Norway, the project examines solar neighbourhoods in Brighton in the UK, and second-generation smart electric meter rollout in Trento, Italy. 

- There is a need to understand how digitisation impacts energy transitions at different scales, a research interest I pursue. Transitions occur not just at one or another scale, but in complex ways entangled across scales, so we have to study changes at multiple scales and the connections between them, says Sareen.

Siddharth Sareen was a post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for Climate and Energy Transformation (CET) from April 2017 to July 2020. The project follows a natural progression from his work on several projects at the University of Bergen on the governance of energy transitions. Understanding socio-political dynamics across scales is an important part of just transitions research, as Sareen explains:

- This includes the local and the urban, national and sub-national, the global and the trans-national, as well as the connections between different spaces. It could be city networks, like in our ‘European cities as actors in climate and energy transformation’ project, or the ways that actors embody certain kinds of knowledge and practices across the spaces and roles they occupy. The idea of networked governance is closely linked to the praxis of multi-scalar transitions.

In August 2020, he became Associate Professor in Energy and Environment at the Department of Media and Social Sciences at University of Stavanger. 

However, this does not mean CET and UiB are saying goodbye to this enthusiastic and energetic researcher. The ROLES project enables an opportunity for collaboration between Sareen’s continuing role as a researcher here at CET – where he leads research on just mobility transitions – and his new role in Stavanger. He was recently awarded a CET Accelerator Fund grant to integrate research on domestic and transport energy poverty, in line with his interest in metrics of just transitions.

Smart mobility transitions in Norway

The project team in Norway, which includes researchers at the University of Bergen and University of Stavanger, focuses on smart mobility transitions in Bergen. Through focus groups, small-scale surveys, expert interviews and field observations, the researchers engage with stakeholders on the ground. They also conduct stakeholder workshops and open seminars to generate an understanding of public discourse on this urban issue.

- Actors include energy citizens, the everyday users of energy and mobility, and key decision-makers in the municipality and other relevant institutions. These institutions are administrated in specific ways and the problems we are examining often involve complex decisions that are made across sectors. Understanding the need for cross-sectoral coordination is a major consideration that guides our fieldwork, says Sareen.

Sareen coordinates the Just Mobility Transitions Network which recently secured funding from UH-nett Vest and connects several institutions in Western Norway on this theme, including CET.

What are Energy citizens?

The term energy citizens is an emergent concept within scholarship and EU policy. The European Commission uses the concept to highlight different ways of conceptualizing people and their role in the energy sector.

- It is a really promising framing. Talking about energy citizenship allows us to normalize that we all have a stake in the energy sector. For too long, the energy sector has been seen as technical and distant from people. It has been governed in a centralised way and at a large scale. That is not something to be taken for granted today, says Sareen.

Renewable energy sources are increasingly the most cost-competitive option. Moreover, they can create opportunities for citizens to have greater involvement in running the energy sector and related sectors like mobility in more decentralised ways, as Sareen explains:

- The fact that we have urgent climate targets that need to be addressed in people-centric ways means that we must encourage wider involvement. Energy citizenship as a concept enables engendering a sensibility where larger publics proactively exercise their stake in just energy transitions.

The ROLES project kicked off in December 2020 and runs through to the end of 2023. Researchers involved in the project at CET are Siddharth Sareen, Håvard Haarstad, Devyn Remme and Katinka Lund Wågsæther. The team was able to conduct substantial preliminary fieldwork during autumn 2020 before the launch of the ROLES project, due to a synergistic focus with the Trond Mohn Foundation funded project that ran until December 2020.

Update 16th of December: A huge congratulations also go to Siddharth for being awarded the Research Council of Norway Young Talents research project (FRIPRO) for his Accountable Solar Energy TransitionS. 

Watch the Responsive Organising for Low Emission Societies project's co-creation workshop on just urban mobility transitions as part of the National SDG Conference Bergen Day Zero, held online on 10th February 2021.