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At an international academic conference about energy transitions

By PhD student at Copenhagen University, Irina Papazu
Category: Education

As a part of my PhD I travel a lot, visiting conferences and presenting my work. My PhD project is about Samsø, where I did fieldwork in 2013 and -14 in order to reach a closer understanding of how Samsø has managed to achieve what the rest of the world is only starting to perceive as a pressing and challenging goal: energy-selfsufficiency and CO2 neutrality.

Therefore, in the beginning of July, I participated in a conference in Tours, a beautiful city a two-hour trainride outside Paris. The conference 2nd International Days of Energy Sociology – Contemporary Societies Faced With Energy Transitions took place at Tours’ Université Francois-Rabelais. Around 200 participants, both scientists and experts from the energy business met here to discuss current energy-related challenges connected to the need to transform our energy systems.

As it turns out, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the French seem to operate with the term ’French-International’, which is to say that the word ’International’ in the conference title is to be taken with a pinch of salt. For the around 20 conference participants who didn’t speak French – myself included – the organizers had installed simultaneous interpreters, so since the majority of the presentations were in French, I experienced the conference wearing a headset and listening to the voices of the interpreters.

My presentation had the working title Making the renewable energy island: securing local viability through energy transformations. I argued that – contrary to the popular understanding of public participation as something that takes place in specifically designated fora (e.g. the citizen meeting in the town hall) and as something that is primarily employed as a strategy to secure the legitimacy of a project – the brand of citizen participation practised on Samsø during the Renewable Energy Island (REI) project was different. Through an analysis of the development of district heating on the island, I show how citizen participation was essential to the practical realisation of the REI project plans. The citizens were the ones who put in the work, their time and resources. And they didn’t get engaged because they were climate activists, but because they wanted to participate in strengthening their local community.

After my presentation there were several questions from the listeners. One person wanted to know if the REI project can be replicated elsewhere. Someone always asks that. I tend to answer that inspiration is the point, not replication. Then someone asked if ’community’ is really the best concept to use in the case of Samsø, thinking as it is a word that has been appropriated by the World Bank, among others. And lastly, someone wanted to know if energy savings, rather than simply energy production, have also been in focus on Samsø. These questions are good examples of the types of questions people tend to ask when they first hear about Samsø.

So even though I was slightly worried the French might not be interested in hearing my English presentation, I still think they learned something new from the presentation, because in academic circles Samsø is not one of the most well-known examples – yet

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