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Forms of adaptation & their limits – our third flexibility reading room

25 January, 2021

Reading time: 4 minutes

What do organisations consider to be the limits of adaptation – in contingency plans, in buffering and storage, and in managing and handling disruptions of one kind or another?

Our third reading room on 16 December 2020 focused on recognising that energy demand is always changing, and that people and organisations are constantly adapting and responding to events – whether these relate to the ‘needs’ of a more intermittent energy supply system or not. These strategies provide insight into the apparent ‘limits’ of adaptation and into definitions of core service and baselines.

In particular, we considered examples of what organisations (companies / businesses) take to be the limits of adaptation – what are the non-negotiable practices implicit in contingency plans, in everyday forms of buffering and storage, and in methods of managing and handling disruptions of one kind or another?


Where do buffer zones ‘lie’ in different systems of provision and organisation? Where is there ‘slack’, how is this built in, and how is it related to peaks, tensions and pressures. How do different combinations or configurations of buffering impact on energy/transport demand? How are local contingencies and responses interconnected across and beyond organisations? For example, where are opportunities for ‘buffering’ situated across extended supply chains and how do they vary in response to socio-temporal cycles (e.g. seasons, holidays)? How might webs of inter-organisational contingency and flexibility be identified at the level of an entire sector, and how could we plot their consequences for energy demand at this scale?


Storing and stock piling represents one method of coping with anticipated disruption. How are forms of storing, waiting, and prioritising organised in different sectors? For example, how have ‘just in time’ strategies affected the scale and location of ‘stock piles’ of energy, and related or assumed patterns of mobility? How do methods and scales of storage – especially of fuels-but also energy e.g. in the form of hot water – relate to such features as cost, weight, volume or the importance of back up and reserve? In aggregate, what do these arrangements mean for the ‘flexibility’ of energy systems and the capacity to shift the timing of demand?


Organisations regularly adjust to changing events in the world. Some of these events disrupt ‘normal’ patterns of ‘service’ and energy demand – generating increases, or sometimes decreases in consumption. At the same time, many methods of managing uncertainties are about flattening the impact of unexpected or anticipated disruption: ensuring ‘the same’ outcome and the same activities and practices, despite fluctuations in supply, or in how things are done. Responses suppose a kind of ‘normal’ baseline provision or point of reference. We know that these change over time but how, why and with what effect on the flexibility of the energy system overall.

We are interested in how contingency planning has changed as new ways of living and doing (practices) emerge and as anticipated forms of disruption change as well. Wars, viruses, climate change itself present different sorts of challenges, over various time scales. In such contexts, how do exceptional responses become normal, and does this lead to new forms of (in)flexibility and demand?

Transcript: Forms of adaptation & their limits – our third flexibility reading room

We had short introductions from:

We used these introductions as input for our discussions on the following questions:

  • What is the significance of contingency and contingency planning for understanding flexibility and the possibilities for demand side management (e.g. in organisations or households)?
  • What does contingency planning involve? How is it made through forms of temporal buffering and storage e.g. of energy, goods, etc.)?
  • How are possibilities for contingency made? And what is the relationship between contingency planning ‘normal’ business? Does extreme planning escalate what counts as ‘normal’ provision? How could we tell?
  • What do all of the above strategies reveal about the scope for flexible adaptation in energy demand?

Further reading rooms


  • Stan Blue
  • Elizabeth Shrove
  • Michael Greenhough
  • Jacopo Torriti
  • Samuele Lo Piano
  • Jose Luis Ramirez-Mendiola
  • Nicola Labanca
  • Dale Southerton
  • Selin Yilmaz
  • Yohei Yamaguchi
  • Mikko Jalas
  • Marius Korsnes
  • Nick Eyre
  • Greg Marsden
  • Jennifer Whillans
  • James Wright

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