First International Conference on Energy Research and Social Science

START recently attended the First International Conference on Energy Research and Social Science in Barcelona on April 2-5th. We found the conference extremely insightful and we connected with the top researchers in the fields of energy and social science. We presented two pieces of work at the event. The first was on the role of environmental framing in the socio-political acceptance of smart grid in British Columbia, Canada. The second was on the Canadian media’s framing of Canada’s Northern Gateway Project, and the absence of climate dialogue. We are happy to report that the research was received positively by our colleagues, and that we won first place for our poster on smart grid acceptance. A big congratulations to Dr. Jonn Axsen, Derek Peters, and Alexander Mallet on that research!

If you missed us at the conference, you can download the poster presentations here.

The role of environmental framing in socio-political acceptance of smart grid: The case of British Columbia, Canada — Poster PDF

20170405_195702 (1)Various “smart grid” technologies can help achieve a region’s environmental and climate mitigation goals by facilitating the deployment of renewable energy sources, transportation electrification, energy conservation and load-shifting of electricity use. We explore socio-political acceptance of smart grid in the case of British Columbia, Canada—a low carbon electricity-based region where smart grid deployment has been mandated as part of climate change legislation. Specifically, we explore the role of environmental framing in the acceptance of smart grid technologies by citizens, media, and key stakeholders (as three components of socio-political acceptance). We collected and analyzed data from the British Columbia context via a survey of Canadian citizens implemented in 2013 (n = 2930), a media analysis of newspaper articles from 2007 to 2012, and interviews with key stakeholders in 2013. We find that overall citizen acceptance of one smart grid technology (smart meters) is relatively low in British Columbia, but acceptance doubles when the survey explicitly describes smart meters according to positive frames, namely environmental benefits without installation costs or mandatory enrolment. Alternatively, we find that media and key stakeholders in British Columbia focus more on economic frames of smart grid deployment (e.g. reducing electricity costs) than environmental frames (e.g. climate abatement). Further, we find that news media mention smart grid risks 50% more frequently than benefits. By comparing these different aspects of socio-political acceptance, we suggest that key stakeholders seeking to deploy smart grid technology could better stimulate citizen support by more actively using positive frames that garner citizen acceptance within their respective jurisdictions, such as pro-environmental benefits as found in our case study.

Media framing of unconventional fossil fuels: The absence of climate dialogue in Canada’s Northern Gateway Project — Poster PDF

Canada’s Northern Gateway Project is a controversial pipeline proposal that would carry unrefined bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to the coast of British Columbia for international export. We analyzed print media for coverage of the Northern Gateway Project in six Canadian newspapers, including 2097 articles published from 2008 to 2014, inclusively. The objectives were threefold: 1) to characterize media framing of the project using a risk/benefit framework; 2) to identify regional differences in framing between the two affected provinces; and 3) to investigate the framing of environmental risk. Our findings demonstrate that public discourse surrounding the project is framed as a trade-off between economic benefit and environment risk, which is fairly typical for energy projects in North America. Despite a strongly regional distribution of risks and benefits (where Alberta would experience most of the economic benefits and British Columbia would bear considerable environmental risk), we did not find substantial differences in framing between newspapers in each of the two provinces. Finally we found that the environmental risk frame was presented predominately according to potential local impacts due to pipeline or tanker rupture. The global impacts of climate change were rarely mentioned (less than 5% of the articles), indicating that climate change is a marginal component of the public discourse of the project.