Gareth Powells and Michael J. Fell
Flexibility has increasing value across sectors of the economy, including energy. The ability to be flexible is affected by a wide variety of sociotechnical factors and determines what we term ‘flexibility capital’. Levels of flexibility capital vary in populations, both absolutely and in the extent to which they are primarily derived from technological or social means, which has implications for the (dis)comfort and (in)convenience involved in economising flexibility capital. Furthermore, we argue that freedom of choice over whether and how to economise flexibility capital can be limited by factors such as financial resources, among others. In constrained systems (such as energy networks), the level of service enjoyed by the more affluent may not simply be higher than those who are less affluent, but may be directly enabled by reductions in the latter’s comfort and/or convenience which may not feel fully voluntary. There is a real risk that such injustices could be locked into energy infrastructure and market design and governance for the long term as has already happened in labour markets. We introduce the concept of ‘flexibility justice’ as a frame for these issues of fairness. While the concepts we offer in the paper emerge from longstanding engagements with energy research contexts and they relate directly to the issues currently being debated in the energy research and policy communities, we contend that they can be related to a much broader range of issues in 21st century economies.
Powells, G. and Fell, M.J (2019) Flexibility capital and flexibility justice in smart energy systems. Energy Research and Social Science, 54: 56–59. doi: 10.1016/j.erss.2019.03.015 Opens in a new tab
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