Sociotechnical Resilience: From Recovery to Adaptation and Beyond, the Journey So Far…



Although the profile of resilience is growing rapidly, its fundamental character remains unclear. Sociotechnical resilience is rendered further ambiguous by its denial of traditional disciplinary distinctions and tensions with social theory. This chapter identifies and discusses these complexities, and examines how they have been addressed. It finds that systemic portrayals of resilience are particularly well complemented through the situated insights delivered by analysis of the sociotechnical ensembles of interest. A case study of the challenge domestic photovoltaic power (PV) presents to the Australian electricity industry illuminates how established status quo interests can undermine resilience. This clarifies not only the character of disruptive technological challenges but also the requirement for a governmental commitment to resilience as explored in the concluding discussion.


Resilience Disruptive technology Transition management Governance Photovoltaics 


There remains a lack of clarity regarding the essential character of resilience, inconsistent with the increasing political and broader decision-making attention it attracts. In an earlier publication, a co-author and I discussed this “pervasive ambiguity” noting how resilience is characterized “as an outcome or process characteristic, as intrinsic or contingent, a matter of system structure or function, as a paradigm or as ‘just an expression’” (Healy and Mesman 2014: 196). Much of the current literature reflects this imprecision tending, for the most part, to emphasize either “engineering resilience” (Holling 1996: 1473), understood as an ability to “bounce back” to recover a system state or condition equivalent to that existing prior to disturbance, or for a system to have the ability to recover from disturbance such that an essential function, or functions, are maintained (e.g. Meerow et al. 2016).1 However, in addition to this lack of clarity over the essential meaning of resilience, critical matters of power, control, and social structure are also often overlooked (e.g. Meerow et al. 2016). Smith and Stirling (2010) illuminate the grounds for such ambiguity and imprecision and articulate a requirement to “reflect on what precisely it is that is being made resilient, in the face of which specific dynamics, for whom and by what criteria this is good or bad, and whether such resilience is consequently problematic or not” (2010: 11). However, they do this in an ecologically focused journal. For this journal, resilience is simply an ecological imperative, which considerably frames the interpretation that they give to the challenges Smith and Stirling articulate. This journal, the mouthpiece of the Resilience Alliance, affords a significant platform for the articulation of questions regarding the relationship between resilience, understood ecologically, and social systems, a relationship that the Resilience Alliance articulates as social-ecological systems.2 While this journal’s perspective is marked by limited input from the social sciences, humanities and broader social theory,3 it currently provides a significant source of information regarding relationships between resilience, understood ecologically, and human society. This is consequential because the role of societal dynamics in resilience is conspicuously absent from the broader resilience literature. Further, although socially informed approaches commonly reflect a democratic ethos and recommend that people, as members of an ensemble to be rendered resilient, be granted a meaningful role in arbitrating the questions that Smith and Stirling (2010: 11) articulate, unintended consequences may result from this. The outcome of such a democratic process might, for example, not only fail to endorse the ecological priorities emphasized by the Resilience Alliance but be understood, through the focus upon individual accountability implicit in a democratic process, to echo the neoliberal tendency to devolve responsibility to affected populations.4 This exemplifies the problematic, frequently contested, but far from rare or inconsequential tensions commonly revealed by substantive engagement with the sociotechnical constitution of resilience (Healy and Mesman 2014).

A review of the recent literature was conducted to help inform the way this chapter interprets how resilience might best be conceived, managed, and acted upon and such tensions effectively addressed. The insights generated are applied to a case study focused upon the challenge that the rapid emergence of substantive demand-side energy provision is providing the Australian electricity industry. Australia currently has the world’s highest installation rate for domestic rooftop solar photovoltaic panels (PV), for a range of reasons including policy support and high incident solar radiation levels (The Conversation 2016). Indeed, commentators have noted that “Australian consumers can already install significant amounts of rooftop solar and battery storage at a cost that is cheaper than electricity from the grid, and the uptake of these two technologies is likely to be ‘unstoppable’” (Parkinson 2015a). This unheralded growth in installed PV has been marked by “double the rate of take-up (15 per cent of households on average) compared to the next country, Belgium where about 7.5 per cent of households have solar” (Vorrath 2016).

While a positive development for many, this is not how mainstream energy interests have received it. Although the resilience of energy and water systems are significantly enhanced by substantive domestic self-provision (Arcari et al. 2011),5 a matter particularly well established in the case of distributed PV (NREL 2014), the Australian electricity industry has, for the most part, been unsupportive. In particular there has been a distinct “trend among some electricity networks to penalize or discourage the uptake of rooftop solar by imposing fixed tariffs or additional fees … extending to battery storage, with one network accused of trying to lift charges to households with storage even though they are reducing peak demand” (Parkinson 2015b).

Hence, despite widespread recognition that solar PV enhances the sustainability and resilience of Australia’s electricity industry and has benefits, to both communities and energy markets (Coleman and Teixeira 2016), incumbent electricity industry interests have been unsupportive.6 While this evolving case study displays uncertainties common to all such dynamic developments, its character is directly pertinent to the current trajectory of electrical systems across both the developed and developing world.7 It both illuminates the notion of an “energy transition,”8 widely viewed as the key dynamic attaching to an effective jurisdictional response to climate change, and the substantial challenges to which “disruptive” technological change, identified as “such an improvement that it renders existing industries obsolete” (McConnell 2013), can give rise.9 The conclusion of this chapter that “political will,” and its translation into effective governance, are critical to, not only such “energy transitions,” but also the effective enactment of sociotechnical resilience, more generally resonates with recent policy commentary (Hampton et al. 2017) and analysis. Amir and Kant discern, for example, “intentional and organized changes as the defining feature of sociotechnical resilience” (Amir and Kant 2018).

The first section, following, briefly scrutinizes recent interpretations of resilience and finds that the most widely found systemic interpretations are, typically, insensitive to the situated particulars required by effective analysis. An assemblage interpretation, which is a particularly powerful reading of Amir and Kant’s (2017) analysis of sociotechnical resilience in terms of “mutually entangled” hybrids that are “both social and technical at the same time,” is found to remedy this deficit. This interpretation focuses upon the collections of people and things constitutive of circumstances, and an ensemble understanding of these is found to best illuminate the situated dynamics from which resilience emerges. The following sections examine current tensions in the Australian electricity supply industry employing this insight. These tensions over changes in the Australian electricity industry are then further elucidated through the lens of transition management, an approach to fundamental structural change pioneered in the Netherlands for managing the emergence of both sustainability and the low carbon energy system that sustainability necessitates. Transition management powerfully illuminates how governance for resilience is critical for the achievement of future resilience, elements of which are examined in the final sections of the chapter.

Systemic or Situated?

Explanations of resilience, endeavoring to impart a comprehensive perspective, are commonly founded upon the major systems of interest, most typically framed by the binary distinctions central to the Western intellectual tradition (i.e., nature/culture, body/mind, fact/value, etc.), mapping the empirically evident relationships between them. Such a depiction might, for example, start with a system of government, or governance, and thence various dependent social and/or infrastructural systems, followed by the natural/ecological systems of interest, with the latter forming a “foundation” for the overall representation.

These systemic renditions echo traditional analytic frameworks and their grounding in the universalistic, totalizing tendencies of Western science. However, and arguably as a result, they commonly confound effective analysis by poorly engaging the specifics of locality, affected populations or situated, local processes. More recent thinking, deriving from contemporary continental thought, notably Deleuze, and recent socio-material theory,10 reverses the emphasis on the universal, as against the situated, through emphasizing the notions of assemblage, or agencement,11 understood as a dynamic arrangement of people and things focused through particular processes.12 An assemblage, or agencement, entails not only a mapping of the relationships by which they are constituted but also the processes of emergence they might facilitate (Phillips 2006), in whatever domain, such as particular places or practices, they are applied to or found within. I use the term ensembles for these collections because, not only is “[t]his idea of a socio-material and sociotechnical ensemble … the most literal meaning of assemblage” (Farías 2010), but myself (Healy 2004) and others (e.g., Bijker 1995) have used this term to better portray the meaning-laden dynamics of these active, dynamic amalgamations.

Thus, although systemic characterizations reveal the paradigmatic universal quality so esteemed by Western science, ensembles amalgamate technical features, specific to particular places, resources and/or practices, with the social and moral meanings, and agential forces, that participants complementarily deploy to engender eventful circumstances. A key difference between the two being that situated, contextual particulars do not claim a universal status but rather conform, simply, to specific circumstances. Ensembles can be identified correlating to a particular practice or resource, such as water, energy, or automobility, or belonging to a specific place or particular community. The ensemble depiction, thus, facilitates not only an illumination of the situated specifics pertaining to a matter of interest but also the ways affected populations experience, understand and participate in them. The resultant governmental implications have explained how “the logic of systems is replaced with the contingency of assemblages to reveal how pluralism, not elitism, can produce more ambitious and politicized visions of the future” (Gillard et al. 2016). These matters are further examined in the final sections that follow.

Energy, Energy Everywhere

In the industrialized world, electricity systems evolved to take a centralized form in which large-scale electricity generation stations, primarily fossil-fueled, distributed the generated power to end-users via a transmission “grid.” This applied the then available technological options focused by an “economics of scale,” which made for a compelling logic in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although still incumbent in many jurisdictions, recent decades have seen this centralized logic challenged by cost-effective decentralized, point-of-use, generation options, rendered available by the emergence of distributed renewable generation technologies whose prices continue to fall.13 Australia has witnessed the massive growth in domestic rooftop solar PV described earlier as part of this transformation. Recently, the resultant proliferation of “prosumers”14 has been accelerated by the emergence of new energy storage technologies in the domestic market.15 Tesla, for example, has specifically targeted the Australian domestic market with its new Powerwall Battery technology (ABC 2016).16 However, although “distributed PV can significantly increase the resiliency of the electricity system” (NREL 2014), and despite widespread recognition of the problems facing Australia’s electricity industry, it has been unsupportive (e.g. Parkinson 2015b). So although “Australia’s National Energy Market is hamstrung by an outdated, ‘dumb’ grid, and must be updated to face the realities of low carbon, low marginal cost energy generation” (Quinn 2016), the industry has remained moored by the logic of yesteryear. This has been particularly counterproductive with “the lingering conservatism of … market operators and policy makers and regulators, who over the last five years all but ignored new technologies and stuck to their projections of increased demand in justifying huge spending on network infrastructure” (Parkinson 2016a).

The economically punitive reactions to the rise of domestic solar PV described above (Parkinson 2015b) bear witness to these arguments. So although “Australia’s electricity regulatory frameworks … require rethinking and adaption” to accommodate current challenges (Clean Energy Council 2015: 2) and the “critical need of reform” (Wood 2016), this indicates may be on the horizon (Parkinson 2016d), little change is currently evident.17 Complicating this is that “[a]s numerous people have mentioned, including the head of China’s State Grid, transitioning … [an] … energy system is not so much a technology issue, as a cultural and political issue” (Parkinson 2016b), a matter underlined by Thomas Hughes, the leading historian of electricity systems.18 So, although “the transition from the outdated dirty power system…to the smart, flexible and cleaner power system of the future” (Parkinson 2016b) has many key technical dimensions, this is also, critically, “a cultural and political issue.” While the technological aspects of this “transition” are customarily considered unchallenging, requiring little beyond the deployment of available technologies,19 the business and regulatory challenges are proving to be significantly greater hurdles. However, the broader lifestyle and cultural aspects of this “transition” have been given little informed attention to date. Expert commentators note that “designing electricity markets for the prosumer era could maximize residential and commercial energy efficiency efforts, democratize demand-response and prepare society for ubiquitous distributed clean energy technologies.” They do, however, add that “this can be achieved only if proponents are able to recognize and support prosumer markets differentiated by services, role and function, and anticipate a series of compelling caveats and complexities” (Parag and Sovacool 2016).

We should, perhaps, thus be unsurprised that the response of Australian government and regulatory authorities to the current changes to Australian energy markets remains hesitant, tenuous and out of touch with the speed and disruptive quality of these changes.20 This is no better illustrated than by the “Electricity Network Transformation Roadmap” project, a partnership between CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, and the Energy Networks Association (ENA), the peak body of Australian energy transmission and distribution businesses, which has a timeframe of 2017–2027. So although “[a]cross the eastern seaboard served by the National Electricity Market (NEM) demand is collapsing and heading towards territory not seen since the last millennium.………The reduction in demand has clearly blindsided both industry and government, which continue to operate as though demand growth must inevitably return” (Sandiford 2014). As a result, the rapid regulatory attention this demands remains absent and those in a position to deliver this remain confident that it can wait a decade.21

Smart Energy Futures (or Not?)

Although many “prosumers” have responded to the “trend among some electricity networks to penalize or discourage the uptake of rooftop solar by imposing fixed tariffs or additional fees” (Parkinson 2015b) by leaving the grid, much of the traditional electricity industry appears unperturbed by these changes. This has encouraged the identification of a “death spiral” for the traditional electricity industry (Sandiford 2014),22 although many view the grid as a pivotal feature of a future, sustainable electricity system.23 This would, however, be a very different system to the current one. Demand is currently matched to available supply for five-minute intervals for which generators bid,24 rendering the maintenance of power quality, primarily the uniform character of voltage and supply frequency, unchallenging. Embedded renewable generation, from intermittent generating sources, significantly increases both the difficulty of effectively matching supply to demand and of maintaining power quality. Future grids will likely necessitate extensive real-time monitoring and computational resources to cope with these challenges. While there are a number of such “smart grids” currently in operation there is limited experience in scaling them to a jurisdictional scale. One scenario contemplated for such scales is of using a number of interconnected “smart grids” to constitute a future scaled-up jurisdictional scale system. The least challenging aspects of these systems are, generally considered, to be technological although the economic25 and regulatory challenges these pose remain poorly addressed, while the “forms of life” they might inform have been little considered to date.26 While a “smart grid” matched to these developments would be cost effective and improve resilience: “[t]he traditional market arrangement is already broken” and driving people off the grid (Stewart 2016); institutional preparations for this “transition” are underwhelming, and “prosumers” have been vociferously articulating their dissatisfaction (Solar Citizens 2016a, b).

So against both popular sentiment and insights such as “[i]ntegrating centralized and distributed system models may maximize advantages and minimize limitations …. An integrated system comprising linked provisional infrastructure at multiple scales may offer the best way to build resilience at all levels – from resource producer to resource user” (Arcari et al. 2011: 5); Australia remains robustly in the grip of historical logics. This is has been widely observed with commentators noting, “[i]nstitutional inertia is a major issue” (Parkinson 2016f). A notably similar “inertia” has previously been observed of the Australian institutional capacity for change (Matthews 2011). Matthews noted, of the Australian institutional approach to climate adaptation (2011: 14–15), that “in spite of an emergent institutional capacity… there appears little willingness to view it as an immediate institutional imperative that compels policy or planning change,” an observation particularly prescient for the case discussed here. Indeed, a dearth of coordination of climate and energy policy has been directly connected with Australia’s “constrained” sustainable energy transition (Warren et al. 2016). While Australia certainly has an “emergent institutional capacity” to manage resilience27 this is meticulously conventional (i.e. being, primarily, grouped into areas such as “disaster resilience” and “organizational resilience”) and distinguished by limited integrative capacity. So, although the established wisdom is that planning for resilience must be long term, comprehensive, and coherent over time, this has been notable by its absence in Australia. Policy and business approaches have, rather, been fragmented and underpinned by emphases on business as usual, with the many downsides attendant upon such limited and partial perspectives.28 This is no better witnessed than by the presence of climate skeptics within the ranks of the current Australian government.29 So, analogous to the Resilience Alliance’s very partial perspective on resilience, the Australian government has a, correspondingly, limited capacity to determine “what precisely it is that is being made resilient, in the face of which specific dynamics, for whom and by what criteria this is good or bad, and whether such resilience is consequently problematic or not” (Smith and Stirling 2010: 11). The current disjointed and fragmented Australian approach to the energy transition, and predisposition to favor status quo interests and perspectives (Warren et al. 2016) should, thus be unsurprising. A particularly coherent, and among the best-known, way of managing a transition, that of Transition Management, with which the Netherlands has jurisdictional experience and is used internationally for the analysis of sustainability and energy transitions,30 is outlined in the following section.

Transition Management for Resilience

Whereas the Australian institutional encounter with the energy “transition,” detailed above, has encountered significant resistance from incumbent institutions the Netherlands has been more welcoming to analogous developments and pioneered a formal governmental approach to “transitions management” centered on the multi-level perspective (MLP). Focused upon achieving sustainability,31 the MLP involves the identification of three levels focused through an entrenched “sociotechnical regime,” and bounded by “landscape developments” above and “technological niches” below. In the MLP, five dimensions are identified to represent the trajectory of an entrenched sociotechnical regime, such as that of automobility or, until recently, the hegemony of fossil fuel technologies in the energy domain. These five dimensions are those of: science; technology; policy; culture; and markets, user preferences. This sociotechnical trajectory is bounded by landscape developments above and, occasionally, challenged by the emergence of developing “technological niches” below. Landscape developments are intended to encompass the legal, regulatory and economic influences on a “socio-technical regime,” including that of government.

Technological niches develop as emergent technologies grow, gain influence and dynamism and, thus, may eventually challenge the predominant sociotechnical regime. For example, in the case study described here, domestic rooftop solar is growing and presenting a challenge to the predominant Australian fossil fuel regime. It is important to highlight that the MLP emphasis on regime change is not consistent with those on continuity, recovery and adaptation at the core of, particularly ecological systems, resilience theory. The links between these two, apparently opposed, theories are, however, significant (Stockholm Environment Centre 2010) and considered “to provide a bridging opportunity to share lessons concerning the governance of both” (Smith and Stirling 2008: 2), although the differences between them are profound. Smith and Stirling (2008: 11) summarize that “Adaptive management32 is more concerned with resilience that maintains social-ecological system functions and avoids large-scale collapse; whilst transition management is concerned with transformation to a sustainable socio-technical system over the longer-term.”

It is, however, clear that these competing emphases on continuity and change are both critical to the achievement and maintenance of long-term global sustainability, and so extensive attention has been directed to the linkages between them. Those that have done this (e.g. Smith and Stirling 2008; Stockholm Environment Centre 2010; Meadowcroft 2011: 545–547) stress “the involvement of societal stakeholders, and ultimately … the approbation of political authorities” (Meadowcroft 2011: 547) as pivotal and it is to such matters of governance that this account turns below. A sense of the aims of shared governance can be gained from Smith and Stirling who note that “transition management injects goal-directing processes into socio-technical transformations. There are multiple governance challenges: collectively envisioning viable sustainability goals; nurturing promising niches; building supportive constituencies of actors, institutions and markets; and continually anticipating, learning and adapting” (2008: 9), with the latter echoing a key feature of adaptive management.

Governance for Resilience

The MLP facilitates insights into how the “niche” politics described in this chapter may develop with it widely recognized that “the most important challenge for energy transition governance lies in ensuring that future governments will remain credibly committed to overall transition visions and goals” (Laes et al. 2014: 1143). This, however, must be achieved within broader, and widely acknowledged, constraints such as “[h]ow do challenging bottom-up governance initiatives confront the deeply structural forms of economic power vested in current global patterns of system reproduction? How are different bodies of knowledge and interests in social-ecological systems negotiated? How is consent achieved, and how is dissent reconciled?” (Smith and Stirling 2010). Recent work in this tradition has shown how niche growth can be either contained or facilitated (e.g. Hess 2016: 42). Such analyses generally assume an existing normative foundation for a transition that informs “managerialist steering and consensus building” (Gillard et al. 2016: 260). However, as the case of Australia well illustrates, conventional managerialism can be unhelpful and, arguably, damaging. A recent study of climate change governance alert to such problems suggests that “focusing on the contingent relations between various actors (human and nonhuman) and their assemblages (e.g. an industry or a community) instantly opens up possibilities for more radical innovation and adaptability beyond the discursive confines of a functionalist system perspective” (Gillard et al. 2016: 260). In addition, although a focus on contingency and the complexities attaching to assemblages can generate profound uncertainties “unlike conventionally linear approaches to governance, which focus on realizing clearly defined goals and which therefore seek to minimize ambivalence, strategies of sustainable transition management are frequently informed by more reflexive modes of governance and by a willingness to embrace certain forms of ambivalence” (Walker and Shove 2007: 222). Walker and Shove make the point that “[t]here is a politics to the governance of transitions that works with and contributes both to the ambivalence of sustainability as a discursive category and to the playing out of power in two key arenas, in the definition of the ‘system’ in question, and in specifying modes and moments of intervention” (Walker and Shove 2007: 222). They further argue that ambivalence is “the very stuff of a dynamic, critical and questioning liberal politics” (2007: 223) and, therefore, that the “critical political challenge is to design forms of governance that foster and sustain ambivalence” (2007: 223).

To this end, they advocate fostering “grey zones and interstices within existing orders” such that “positively generative structures of ambivalence come into being” (2007: 223). Such “governance on the inside” has previously been described as an “ideal-typical” approach to the governance of sociotechnical systems (Smith and Stirling 2007).33 Those that have broached such complexity recommend “focusing on the contingent relations between various actors (human and nonhuman) and their assemblages (e.g., an industry or a community)” and “the interpretive and strategic actions of influential actors before, during, and after moments of crisis and agitation” in order to foster dialogue regarding “whose vision of a climate compatible future is being pursued and along which pathways?” (Gillard et al. 2016: 260–1). In other words, the suggestion is that twenty-first century democracies require fundamental reform to facilitate not only broad-based debate and deliberation but also both institutional and societal reflexivity.


Resilience, particularly the constitution of sociotechnical resilience, reinstates, if this ever were not the case, our attention firmly back on matters of governance. As Meadowcroft (2011) above clarifies, “the challenges of the future” are far from undemanding in these regards. Analytically this necessitates that we open “up possibilities for more radical innovation and adaptability beyond the discursive confines of a functionalist system perspective” (Gillard et al. 2016: 260–1) through analysis of assemblages or, as argued here, ensembles, rather than more narrowly delineating sociotechnical systems. This is, however, more straightforward than the requirement to engage the reality of politics, agency and power in whatever context an ensemble of interest operates. This “reality,” with a firm ensemble focus will, necessarily, be micro-, as against macro-, political requiring not the generic, neo-positivist insights of the political sciences but, rather, the situated insights of the (new) humanities.34

This is no better illustrated than by the case study of this chapter. This shows that “one task for policy is to not fall prey to special interests, hypes and undue criticisms…… All new energy technologies come with specific dangers and hazards, which have to be anticipated and addressed. For sustainable energy there are no technical fixes, nor are there perfect instruments. There is a need for policy to be more concerned with system change. The capacity to do so has to be created” (Kemp 2010: 311). In Australia currently structurally powerful political and economic actors are, successfully, thwarting an otherwise well-placed potential energy transition. However, the dynamism of many of the organizations facilitating renewable energy in Australia suggests a potential for fundamental change. Indeed one of the most insightful commentators on these matters recently noted, “[t]he change is upon us and it’s all OK. We just need our regulators and our politicians to catch up” (Parkinson 2017a). For this to happen “politicians” and prosumers will have to agree on a normative basis for their actions. Such “diverse ecologies of participation” are clearly “important for moving towards more deliberately reflexive governance for sustainability and attending to the politics of socio-technical transitions, at least when it comes to participation and ‘the public’” (Chilvers and Longhurst 2016: 603). However, the “reflexive modes of governance and … willingness to embrace certain forms of ambivalence” (Walker and Shove 2007: 222) this may require highlight important future research foci. Meadowcroft underlines that there is “much more to be done to explore avenues for change in democratic polities,” and suggests “[t]he point is … that … the state ….. will have to respond to new challenges, be recast in new institutional forms, and act more cooperatively with a complex array of social forces if it is to handle the challenges of the future” (Meadowcroft 2011: 549). He constructively suggests “public education, the building of reform coalitions and institutional innovation” (2011: 549) as potential foci for this, although these await future study.

A recent commentary on matters surrounding this chapter’s case study noted that it “leaves Australia with … a grid designed by idiots. This is not Grid 2.0” (Parkinson 2017b). Smith and Stirling, among the more seasoned analysts of such matters, observe that “a more politically-inclined perspective sees hope in the messiness and slipperiness of processes beyond the reach of the more managerial forms of transition management. Reflexive governance of a sort is already practiced on a day-to-day basis by the social groups and movements who lobby to get their social-ecological priorities heard by political authority and economic power, and who create alternative niches offering inspiring solutions for others to adopt and adapt” (2008: 21). So although I must conclude at a point where “Grid 2.0” remains illusory in the Australian context, “inspiring solutions” reflexively developed elsewhere illuminate promising alternatives. The implication from all this is that contemporary challenges necessitate challenging realpolitik is of no small consequence for not only energy transitions but also the successful management of sociotechnical resilience more generally.


  1. 1.

    While “engineering resilience” was the original ecological definition of resilience, more sophisticated ecological notions have been developed, most recently Panarchy (Gunderson and Holling 2002), which recognizes the importance of intra-systemic change, involving not only society but also the many different scales and rates at which changes, and adaptations, occur. Some (e.g. Meerow et al. 2016) have, further, noted how resilience can act as a “boundary object” to which different audiences attribute different meanings!

  2. 2.

    Defined as “complex, integrated systems in which humans are part of nature” ( accessed 16/3/16), reflecting the ecological priority attaching to their systems ecology viewpoint.

  3. 3.

    Although recently subject to some study (e.g. Stone-Jovicich 2015).

  4. 4.

    Neoliberalism celebrates the autonomous individual of economic theory, complementary to its derision for state power, by devolving as much of that power to individuals as it can, commonly without resources (Hamann 2009), thereby constructing resilience as an individual responsibility (Josepth 2013).

  5. 5.

    This study “sought to understand how community-scale energy and water systems influence community adaptive capacity and resilience to climate change” (2011: 5).

  6. 6.

    A new report by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), mid-2017, while this chapter was being finalized, suggests that positive changes, although many current political interests would oppose them, could be underway (Parkinson 2017c). This is due, in no small part, to AEMO’s new CEO, appointed March 2017, who previously held the position of Chair of the New York State Public Service Commission (NYPSC). NYPSC is internationally recognized for recent innovative regulatory reforms lowering consumer energy costs while emphasising a more resilient and reliable power system, with a focus upon the facilitation of decentralized demand-side power supply options.

  7. 7.

    The status of these challenges in the developing world will not be further discussed in this chapter (but see, for example: Khoury et al. 2016 and This is further attested to by both the African Union’s “African Renewable Energy Initiative” (AREI) and France and India’s launch of the “International Solar Alliance” at the UNFCCC’s COP 21, December 2015.

  8. 8.

    This notion of a fundamental systemic change in energy production, and use, is typically considered via the perspective of ‘transition management’ discussed below.

  9. 9.

    See McConnell (2013) for a discussion of solar as a ‘disruptive’ technology.

  10. 10.

    Actor Network Theory is among more the recent manifestations of socio-material theory of specific relevance here, elaborated insightfully by major practitioners such as Bruno Latour and John Law. Muller (2015) is of specific relevance to this discussion.

  11. 11.

    Closely related to Foucault’s dispositif, which places more emphasis upon power/knowledge (see: Braun 2014)

  12. 12.

    Dynamics subject to increasing scholarly attention (e.g. Chilvers and Longhurst 2015).

  13. 13.

    In much of the developing world, discussed in endnote 7 above, electricity systems are, only now, starting to be organized on the basis of the currently available cost effective distributed renewable generation technologies making for very different challenges (See: Healy et al. 2017 for further details).

  14. 14.

    An energy consumer who produces energy has come to be known by this term because they both produce and consume electricity.

  15. 15.

    This was a fairly revolutionary development because the intermittency of the new technologies, which require an ongoing supply of their “fuel” (i.e. the sunshine, wind etc.) to generate power, was effectively rendered unproblematic. Opponents of these changes commonly couch their arguments in terms of a need for “baseload” generation, which is ongoing because their fuel supply, such as coal, is not “intermittent.” Today, such arguments have rapidly become an historical anachronism (Parkinson 2017d).

  16. 16.

    While among the best known, this Tesla product is only one of a number of new, primarily, lithium-ion batteries that have recently come onto the market (ABC 2015). The very rapid evolution of these technologies is shown by the launch of a new Powerwall 2.0 version of these batteries a little less than a year after their initial launch but at about half the price and with double the storage capacity of the initial version (Mountain 2016).

  17. 17.

    With developments over the months since this was originally written only underscoring this, although see endnote 6 above.

  18. 18.

    “Electric power systems embody the physical, intellectual, and symbolic resources of the society that constructs them. Therefore in explaining the changes in the configuration of power systems, the historian must examine the changing resources and aspirations of organizations, groups, and individuals...electric power systems, like so much other technology, are both causes and effects of social change” (Hughes 1983).

  19. 19.

    New prosumer markets have technical challenges beyond the mundane, requiring not only that distributed generation is matched to consumption but also that power quality is adequately maintained across a system, requiring extensive computational and monitoring resources. To date these challenges have been only been successfully met in limited domains although the prevalent technical attitude to them is sanguine (the author, who is a PhD Electrical Engineer, suspects that this confidence is misplaced).

  20. 20.

    While this chapter was drafted in 2016 revisions were made in 2017 and recent developments, detailed by Parkinson (2017a), underline this observation.

  21. 21.

    Parkinson (2016c) details some of the “cracks” beginning to show in the system as a result. At the time of writing, renewable energy technologies were enduring repeated, sustained media attacks (Parkinson 2016h).

  22. 22.

    In addition to the identification of a commercial dilemma for the industry, many commentators point out that as customers leave the grid and prices rise, which is occurring, only those least able to afford the new premiums remain utility customers. The commercial industry dilemma has been more broadly recognized and discussed (e.g. The Economist 2017).

  23. 23.

    In which it would take more of a storage, bidirectional role rather than acting simply as a one-way conduit from the sites of electricity production to the sites of electricity consumption.

  24. 24.

    A recent attempt to match this to the interval over which these are paid, currently 30 minutes, which would accelerate battery storage but disadvantage market incumbents, has been put on hold (Parkinson 2016g).

  25. 25.

    While expected to require particularly innovative tariff structures there has been limited experience in implementing these to date. Under current tariff structures some “prosumers” are even paying utilities for electricity that they, themselves, generate (Parkinson 2016e).

  26. 26.

    Although forms of life” is a term coined by Wittgenstein, it is widely used in Science and Technology Studies to identify the commonly dynamic ways we might live with and through technologies, with, in this case, those associated with electricity particularly significant in shaping the character and content of everyday life.

  27. 27.
  28. 28.

    Not only are the emissions intensive and, more broadly, environmentally damaging aspects of conventional industry, but also the socially divisive impacts of the privileging of some over the many.

  29. 29.
  30. 30.

    Having given rise to many international developments such as the journal Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions (

  31. 31.

    Applied to Dutch energy policy at the end of the twentieth century (Rotmans et al. 2001).

  32. 32.

    Adaptive Management is a widely recognized environmental method of optimizing sustainability by iteratively adapting to changing conditions over time.

  33. 33.

    The other “ideal-typical” approach being “governance on the outside,” which assumes an objectively knowable sociotechnical system (Smith and Stirling 2007).

  34. 34.

    The author’s current institutional affiliation to Environmental Humanities is an exemplary example. One founding principle of this new discipline being the annulment of human exceptionalism, which is a central feature of the traditional humanities.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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