Solar Materialities & Energy Transitions

Nurul Amillin Hussain

February 2018

DPhil School of Geography and the Environment (University of Oxford)


Due to global climate change politics and local government policies, Singapore is undergoing an energy transition, where solar energy is being pursued aggressively in an effort at decarbonizing the nation’s traditional energy infrastructure. This project aims to study the energy transition by exploring the materiality of energy infrastructures in the relations, practices, performances and affects of the everyday lives of citizens living in high-rise, ‘solar-ready’ government housing estates. The project will use qualitative methods (e.g. ethnography, participant observations, interviews) to attend to the following questions: In Singapore’s energy transition, has local, renewable energy production unsettled social, economic and ecological landscapes? Are new social environments being constructed? If so, how can we understand the relations between energy, infrastructure and experience in the environment?

The context for this research is provided by recent studies that have proposed to move away from viewing consumption of energy as something occurring exclusively between individuals and individual devices. This project proposes to move beyond studying cognitive processes of decision making that have been regularly used to explain energy-related behaviours. It aims to look at the interaction between human and non-human actors, drawing upon recent work within and beyond geography about materiality and the elemental, and their involvement in the energy infrastructures in government housing estates; from the elemental nature of solar energy production, the technical installation of panels on rooftops, to their use in powering communal spaces, and the eventual selling of surplus energy to the national grid. Central to the aims of the project is the exploration of the political dynamics of post-colonial state building. Are there political dynamics particular to Singapore’s experience that challenge assumptions about what an energy transition involves? What kinds of ‘energy citizens’ or environmentalism produces, or is produced by, these renewable energy infrastructures?