Electrification: the Entrenchment of a Phenomenon - How Infrastructure Comes into Place

Examensarbete för masterexamen
Master Thesis
Industrial ecology (MPTSE), MSc
Rödl, Malte
Transition studies often do not properly address complexity issues when analyzing technological change. Using the anthropological and biological concept of scaffolding and generative entrenchment, this thesis aims to address this shortcoming by introducing a novel perspective with a more adequate account of intra- and intersystemic dependencies and dynamics, history, and causality of development. Ideas on the processes by which technology become “infrastructure”, the increase and broadening of functionality that technology tends to undergo over time, or the concrete developmental context in which technology grows, are here merged into the multi-level perspective, which is widely-used and familiar with transition studies; also some further ideas from the studies of technological evolution are adopted and implemented. Based on these theoretical ideas, a case-study on the electrification of the United States is performed. This case aims to exemplify the theory, starting with preceding technological developments in steam and hydropower in the early 19th century, and closing with the electrification of the US agriculture in the 1940s. Beside the insight that more complex technologies or phenomena require more complex theories to be accounted for, three overarching dynamics could be identified, which are continuing up to the present and will also shape the future of electric power systems: (i) electric power networks and their extension were largely driven by economies of scale, as a larger network is more resilient and allows for a cheaper supply of electric power; (ii) the large accessibility and availability of electric power in households and industries led and leads to huge incentives to invent and develop more and better appliances and devices that can be sold and create more usage of electricity in turn; (iii) new devices created not only strong dependencies of electric power for individuals, but, also, the spread of certain devices and appliances contributed to the emergence of new standards and norms in society. Lastly, the theories and methods, as well as the result of the case-study and implications for the future of electric power systems are evaluated and discussed. The novel perspectives brought by the accounts of history, dependence, and technological interaction, are valuable and important for the understanding of technology and infrastructure as an evolved system with a specific history and context. From there, ideas and thoughts on the future of electric power systems are generated and discussed; especially technologies for making the electric power system more flexible on the supply and the demand side seem promising and necessary for a pesilient future of power systems.
Energi , Annan naturvetenskap , Energy , Other Natural Sciences
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