Energy research needs social science

We do not know enough about how human factors affect energy consumption and the uptake of new technologies, says Professor Benjamin K. Sovacool from Aarhus University. He has examined the field of energy studies and has found that it lacks interdisciplinary focus and infrequently uses social science methods and concepts. His findings have just been published in the internationally renowned journal Nature and the new journal Energy Research & Social Science.

[Translate to English:] Benjamin Sovacool, professor og centerleder af Center for Energiteknologier på AU Herning. Foto: Anders Trærup, AU Foto

According to Professor Sovacool, from Arhus University’s School of Business and Social Sciences (AU Herning), we need to influence human behaviour if we want to secure a safe and sustainable future. “In energy research, there is simply not enough focus on the social science dimension”, he claims. “For instance, major statistical agencies do not usually collect qualitative data about energy consumption, and this is a problem in the US, Europe and other places around the world.”

To make this point, Professor Sovacool analysed 4,444 full-length articles published between 1999 and 2013 in three leading energy journals.  His results were initially published in the inaugural volume of Energy Research & Social Science, a new journal from Elsevier which he edits. 

“My findings from the study show how biases handicap the field. Engineers and economists are ignoring people and miscasting decision-making and action. Academic researchers frequently obsess over technical fixes rather than ways to alter lifestyles and social norms. Interdisciplinary research remains stymied by institutional barriers in academia and government. National and local energy bodies have conventionally had few social scientists on staff. And most leading journals in the field focus only on one discipline”, Professor Sovacool wrote in Nature.

However, the situation is not entirely bleak.  In his study, Professor Sovacool points at five recommendations that could bring more social scientists into the area of energy research. He says: “Energy studies must become more socially oriented, interdisciplinary and heterogeneous. Problem-focused research activities that centre on both physical and social processes include diverse actors and mix qualitative and quantitative methods have a better chance of achieving analytic excellence and social impact.”

Further information

More information about the study in Nature and Energy Research & Social Science see links below, or contact:

Benjamin Sovacool, Professor and Centre Director of the Centre for Energy Technologies (CET)
Aarhus University, School of Business and Social Sciences, AU Herning
Phone: +45 8716 6915