Reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) in urban energy systems requires the implementation of alternative infrastructure configurations across different geographical, technical and social scales. Furthermore, alternative configurations may improve systems resilience and democratization of service provision. However, unlike current centralised systems, which are well understood from the technical and social perspectives, there is a lack of knowledge on the socio-technical interplay across multiple intermediate scales of alternative infrastructures, defined as all the possible configurations in between off-grid and centralised infrastructure. There are various concepts in the literature describing decentralised, distributed and integrated systems using different primary energy resources and generating various energy carriers -for electricity, heating, and cooling. However, the information on alternative models is limited to the technical requirements leaving a gap in knowledge on the societal requirements. Alternative infrastructure models potentially reduce GHGE but they may require unique forms of social organisation structures to support their adoption and increase the pace towards decarbonisation.
To obtain in-depth understanding of the socio-technical interplay of alternative infrastructures across scales, this paper draws on complexity theory, the concept of modularity and transitions modelling literature. This aid in the definition of the proposed conceptual framework and the Service Provision Modules (SPM). This conceptual framework serves as the basis for spatially specific modelling and simulation. The SPM may use different types of networks and can represent any type of conventional or alternative infrastructure configuration. The conceptual framework then uses the modules to construct the socio-technical layouts for the baseline and possible future configurations in a given area. The paper briefly outlines various concepts in the literature which technically define alternative energy systems, then presents a description of the conceptual framework and the definition of an SPM. Finally, the SPMs are used to represent the Australian electricity system.