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Demand Seminar: Conor Harrison & Heather Chappells

Date: 16 July 2014 Time: 4-6 pm

Venue: FASS Meeting Room 1

Incorporating space and time into energy research in the Southern United States: Conor Harrison, University of North Carolina, USA

What kind of research questions can we answer by researching patterns of energy consumption historically and geographically? What types of data are available, and how can we analyze it to inform issues of contemporary importance?

In this seminar I will focus on the development of electricity production, distribution, and consumption in North Carolina, USA by following the everyday practices of electric power politics and planning. Two cases will serve to question the common narrative used by historians of electricity to describe the take up of electricity - 'if a household can afford electricity, it would begin using it' - and instead show the shaping influence of geographic context and especially the issues of racism and white supremacy.

Back to normal? Demand in the aftermath of disruption: Heather Chappells, Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Canada

Speaker Bio

Heather Chappells will be a visiting researcher at the DEMAND Centre during Summer 2014. She is currently an adjunct professor in the Department of Geography at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Her energy-related research focuses on the socio-technical construction of demand in energy systems, conceptualizations of comfort in a changing climate and more recently on the dynamics of demand in the context of disruption. During her visit to DEMAND she will investigate how cultural, societal and institutional responses to past energy disruptions have shaped future demand trajectories and what this implies for adaptation to "new normal" disruptive conditions associated with climate change.


Energy disruptions are usually short-lived events with power companies and consumers striving to resume to normal operations, services and routines. The purpose of this seminar is to explore whether disruptive events can also be seen to have a more enduring influence on energy systems, consumer practices and on the dynamics of demand. Preliminary analysis of materials documenting social and cultural responses to past heat wave events reveals both the normalization of new dependencies on air-conditioning as a way of dealing with disruption and the reliance on traditional low-tech coping strategies (e.g. ice, curtains, fans) as a way of seeing out the temporary inconvenience of occasional hot weather. Institutional and policy accounts of responses to temporary power shortfalls have further demarcated between proportionate approaches that harness consumer demand flexibility as a way to override crises and disproportionate ones that increase pressure for more supply capacity to meet occasional moments of abnormal demand. In the context of an evolving program of research on the dynamics of demand in the context of historical energy disruptions, several key questions will be explored. What exactly does it mean to return to normal service or practice in the aftermath of energy disruptions? What evidence is there that social or technological changes enacted during past disruptive events can become 'locked in' to have a sustained impact on energy demand? What evidence is there that harnessing consumer flexibility during disruption produces a sustained shift in energy habits or technologies? How do coping responses to disruption vary cross-culturally and with what consequences for the relative sustainability of demand trajectories? Finally, as anticipated climate change means disruption is set to become the "new normal", I will consider debates about disruption as an opportunity for steering or accelerating transition to a low carbon society.

Event website: http://


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: Sociology


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