[D2Grids] A need for multiple areas of expertise to optimize heating networks managed by local "energy communities" (ESCOs).

[D2Grids] A need for multiple areas of expertise to optimize heating networks managed by local

The D2Grids project, which can be seen as a technico-economic project at first glance, is designed with a multi-dimensional approach in which various perspectives from the technical sciences and the human and social sciences converge.

EcoTransFaire, as a partner in the project, addresses the notion of appropriation by local actors (decision-makers, inhabitants, professionals) in the creation of an efficient heating network requiring the establishment of "energy communities". For such a project to take shape, it is essential that each stakeholder is integrated and understands how it works.

"Energy communities": the benefits of heating networks.

We therefore know that the social acceptance of a technical project depends on socio-political factors (actors, politicians, inhabitants...), socio-economic factors (investors, consumers, standard of living...) and socio-cultural factors (lifestyle and housing, involvement of the inhabitants...). These elements must be worked on collectively, from the planning phase onwards, with politicians, actors (partners) and (future) inhabitants. In the framework of the deployment of the 5GDHC, EcoTransFaire focuses on collective practices related to "energy communities". Thus, we detected that in the framework of D2Grids, their creation would generate :

- Social benefits by fostering the engagement of a more resilient and dynamic local community from the very beginning of the neighborhood's construction, as well as a collective identity.

- Socio-economic benefits with a relocation of the added value remaining in the local economy (local purchases).

- New skills and the development of local employment.


For a collective approach and multidisciplinary engineering.

Recognising the other as acting in the resolution of the same problem, as co-owner of the solution, is essential. Considering from the outset the articulations of each scientific discipline reduces the asymmetries between spaces designed by professionals (designers) and spaces experienced by users. It is difficult to separate the product (housing, habitat) from the use (occupier, inhabitant), and therefore, technical standards from social standards, as well as political ambitions. Inhabitants (users), professionals (designers), politicians (decision-makers), everyone has knowledge and skills. It is important to stimulate and mobilize them collectively in order to respond to environmental issues; and above all local, because inclusion in a living space is the building block of any project requiring a strong commitment from the actors involved, in fact, through a change initiated during a collective process. Indeed, in order to set a territory in motion, it is essential to mobilise the structures involved: all the work of adaptation, incorporation, knowledge of the networks and persuasion must therefore be carried out with the local players.

Awareness raising and inclusion of stakeholders: a necessary process.

In order to establish these "energy communities" when creating a 5th generation heating and cooling system organised in a decentralised manner, we have detected a few criteria:

- Identifying local stakeholders and providing a collective intelligence with a common increase of competences through a common management (public and private structures, inhabitants, local authorities) and an optimization of energy consumption (direct use, delayed use, resale, purchase) ;

- Raising awareness of the differentiated uses of energy using the heating network within these dwellings through the active participation of the inhabitants and public authorities ;

- Ensuring the development of energy-related projects and services that combine social dynamics in a neighbourhood with, for example, communal vegetable gardens, energy services (laundries, etc.), carpooling in electric vehicles, etc.

- Ensure the participation of owners in cooperatives, their ownership, and guarantee the evolution of this voluntary participation throughout the life of the project.



The crucial role of the inhabitants and their knowledge of use.

Among the local actors are the inhabitants who have experience in the circulation of spaces and in the use of the city's facilities. They therefore have a practical knowledge of use, bringing together multiple representations, practices and discourses. They give substance to space and life through the relationships that take place there. Moreover, housing is not just a "machine for living": it has a social, functional and economic vocation in an urban landscape forming an attractive, dynamic or rejecting living environment. New technologies and tools integrated into housing, such as home automation, inevitably lead to changes in practices and representations. The occupant of these dwellings, in addition to an awareness of new uses, needs to be included in the reflections to appropriate the tools and services at his/her disposal resulting from the installation of heating networks. Consequently, from design to use, the line is thin, especially when the concept of heating networks is linked to the " energy communities " concept, encouraging a designer-user role that increases the network's autonomy.

Integrating the user

Working on energy means working together on the ways of producing it and using it. Indeed, we do not consume energy directly, but rather equipment and services that operate on the basis of energy supply. Between imagination and the acquisition of an energy and technical culture, it takes a whole process to review one's practices and beliefs. It is therefore important to grasp the user and integrate him or her, at the risk of rejecting the tool in practice and in the imaginary (associated health risks, confidentiality...), because the user is always a designer in the way he or she lives. 


About the author:

Cyrielle CARLISI - RIDACKER is a PhD in sociology - project manager at EcoTransFaire.

She wrote a thesis on "Collective energy renovation operations: household practices and collective actions (in Lorraine)" (2019) at the University of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. She is working on the concept of "energy communities" (linked to energy cooperatives).

Key words: energy renovation, housing and living, collective actions, experiments, energy transition, research-action.

This thesis supports a reflection on the expertise deployed by a multitude of actors (human and non-human) on a multi-dimensional and complex subject: global, efficient and collective energy renovation. It questions the places and roles of actors in the design of collective and experimental actions that aim to achieve a massification of energy renovation of private individual housing. Four schemes, supported by a regional programme, are analysed through organisational and network sociology. The careful study of the logic of actions, the articulation and the dynamics of the actors allows us to understand how the systems are built as "intermediaries" on their territory, or even as trusted third parties for their target public. The latter is made up of private owners. The thesis provides an understanding of their practices and representations and of their renovation paths. The joint study of private devices and uses provides an understanding of the assets and limits of collective operations. Through its research-action dimension, the thesis provides recommendations resulting from an observation field conducted over nearly three years in Lorraine. In this approach, the place of the sociologist, taken in the same way in the observations as any other actor, is the object of a reflexive work.

Photo credit : Maximillian Conacher via Unsplash

Translated from French version 

Learn more about the D2Grids project;

 social sciences
 heating networks

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