Innovation as socio-technical configuration: Towards a relational approach for exploring effects and side-effects of energy innovation

Titus Udreaa, Michael Ornetzedera, Tanja Sinozic-Martineza, Steffen Bettina

a Institute of Technology Assessment, Austrian Academy of Sciences

Innovation certainly is a key element for a successful energy transition. However, mission-oriented innovation is not only about achieving specific normative goals; it also needs to address negative side effects and risks at an early stage in order to be able to take appropriate measures. Technological innovation matters in society, but what is an adequate explanation of its various implications? What actually causes these effects, how are they manifested, and how can they be managed and controlled? How does a technology, process, or product innovation have a specific effect in one context and another one in another context? This paper addresses these questions by investigating the societal implications of innovations for the energy transition in a new relational framework. In this context, it is essential to avoid undesirable side effects of innovations and to explore and discuss broader societal implications and risks from early on. For this, we propose an approach that shifts the focus from technologies in society to technologies in use. We conceptualize technologies in use as socio-technical
configurations of interrelated material and discursive elements. Effects and side-effects are then the results of the specific relations between these elements. In the paper, we briefly present our approach and discuss its empirical and methodological implications using the example of alternative configurations for decentralized renewable power generation.