The energy transition is first about people and second about technology

It is not given what the future looks like, but we know that it is shaped by the choices we make today. Sometimes it is predictable – we make decisions and can foresee the consequences. Sometimes it is extremely complex – a decision may lead to chains of reactions that are impossible to oversee.

The transition to a more sustainable energy system falls into the latter category. The different parts of the energy system are interlinked and how it will develop both depends on our behavior and technological development.

“We often end up arguing for nuclear power or wind power, when we instead should ask our self what kind of future we want and what will be our future needs. Only once we have decided on what we want to achieve, we can discuss which technologies that will support us getting there,” says Anna Krook-Riekkola, associate professor in energy engineering at Luleå University of Technology. She adds: We know that we will need energy also in the future.

Representatives from different parts of
the society contribute to the research

In order to broaden the understanding of the energy transition with focus on the individuals living in the transition, the Arctic Center of Energy (ACE) initiates a research project called Energy Futures of Northern Sweden, which is led by Anna Krook-Riekkola.

“Northern Sweden is first to make the transition, so it feels natural that we take responsibility for initiating research that accelerates development towards a sustainable future. More knowledge is needed about the role of humans in the transition, and I am convinced that the results of the research will be of benefit to many more than just people in northern Sweden,” says Ida Lindh, R&D strategist at Campus Skellefteå and steering group member of ACE.

The research, which will start during autumn 2022, is cross-disciplinary and applied. A large part of the work is carried out in the form of workshops with participants from business, academia and civil society in Northern Sweden.

“The energy transition is complex, but we must dare to trust that it is something people want to and can understand as long as they are given the chance. That is why we believe in a method where we invite people from all of society to participate in the exercises and contribute to the research,” Anna says.

Fictional stories about the future
create engagement

The inspiration is from Arizona State University, a world leader in research on sustainability, where Anna was a Fulbright scholar during spring 2022. At Arizona State University they have conducted workshops around what a future could look like with a lot of solar power which was the inspiration for fictional stories set in the future.

“We call it scientifically based storytelling and we will do something similar here but with a focus on Northern Sweden. The goal is to have a completed book by June 2023 with different fiction stories that can broaden people’s perspectives regarding the ongoing energy transition in the north. We will use stories to encourage people to discuss what future they want to see, to give an understanding of the impacts of different choices, and to create motivation to become involved,” Anna continues.

Energy Futures of Northern Sweden has received funding from ACE. In addition to creating stories about the future, the project also aims to build competence and strengthen cooperation between the stakeholders in ACE and other leading actors in the sustainable energy transition.

“The future is open in terms of the design of the energy system. Although today’s infrastructure affects how we use energy and how quickly the transition can proceed, it does not define the energy system of the future.