Journal article

Energy efficiency left behind? Policy assemblages in Sweden’s most climate-smart city

Energy Urban planning Sustainable building design and construction Smart cities Local government Energy efficiency Zero energy building

Smart city experiments have the potential to reshape urban climate change governance. Smart city initiatives have been supported by international technology companies and the European Union for many years and continue to be promoted by national and municipal governments. In relation to sustainability and climate change, such initiatives promise more efficient use of resources through the use of information and communications technology in energy infrastructure. Experiments with smart city technologies such as urban smart grids have shown the potential to restructure relationships between energy utilities, energy users and other actors by reconfiguring the dynamics of energy supply and demand.

But do urban experiments lead to institutional change? The aim of the article is to provide a better understanding of how smart city experiments reshape the urban governance of building energy use. Hyllie, a new city district in Malmö, Sweden, was home to two smart city experiments that contributed to the institutionalization of urban smart grid technology. However, the analysis of Hyllie’s policy assemblages shows that this institutional change could redefine sustainability at the expense of energy efficiency.

This article shows that smart city experiments can reshape the urban governance of building energy use. New technologies reconfigure governance, potentially giving energy utilities a bigger say in the design of buildings. Energy utilities, equipped with urban smart grid technology, might be more successful than local government in encouraging developers to consider energy issues early in the building design process.

Smart grids, and perhaps also smart home technologies, might redefine sustainability in the eyes of property developers and energy utilities. If that redefinition occurs at the expense of energy efficiency, it is uncertain whether the overall result will be lower greenhouse gas emissions.

This article shows a city in which smart grids are moving forward. Whether smart grids move forward at the expense of energy efficiency, or in tandem with it, depends very much on whether the local government can maintain developers’ interest in energy efficiency. Smart grid technologies could erode developers’ interest in other aspects of building energy use, in which case energy efficiency could very well be left behind.

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