Call for papers

Governing heterogeneous urban energy landscapes: Global North and South perspectives
20-23 June 2023 | International Roundtable Workshop | Limburg, Netherlands

The heterogeneity of urban energy systems and, more broadly, urban infrastructures has attracted increasing attention in urban and infrastructure studies. Infrastructure heterogeneity speaks not only to the diversity of infrastructure constellations across variegated urban contexts with differentiated outcomes (Rutherford and Coutard, 2014; Castán Broto, 2019) but also to the heterogeneity of infrastructure constellations within cities (Jaglin, 2014; Lawhon et al., 2018; Rateau and Jaglin, 2020; Koepke et al., 2021). Over the last years, infrastructure scholarship has explored how energy services are co-produced within heterogeneous urban infrastructure landscapes and problematized the ‘modern infrastructure ideal’ and its notion of an integrated, centralized, and universal networked system (Coutard and Rutherford, 2016; Monstadt and Schramm, 2017). 

Until today, this debate has primarily focused on the particularities of energy supply and demand in cities in the global South, where access to networked energy infrastructures has always been splintered. Here, various studies have explored the complex hybridity of energy service provision patterns combining centralized grids with micro- and off-grid systems; public modes of service provision with private and community-driven modes; as well as planned and incrementally developed infrastructures (e.g., Silver, 2014; Lemanski, 2021; Rateau and Jaglin, 2022; Pilò, 2022). Urban energy landscapes can be characterized as a “system of fragmented coherence” (van Horen 2004), where the state, public utility companies, private entrepreneurs, local communities, and users “share responsibility for provision, with each compensating for the delivery shortfalls of the other”. This often means there are no universally effective mechanisms of accountability or formal coordination structures for energy systems across the entire city (Beall/Fox 2009: 155). 

Although for different reasons than in Southern cities, an increasing heterogeneity and hybridity of socio-technical arrangements also characterize the fabric of Northern cities (Karvonen and Guy, 2018; Basu et al., 2019). Among the drivers of this transformation process are urban responses to decarbonizing energy systems, declining costs of distributed and/or renewable systems, the digitalization of energy systems, and recent geopolitical energy crises. As a result, we can observe an increasing spatial differentiation and heterogeneity of energy systems in cities of the global North with distinct solutions for individual neighborhoods and user groups. These complement or replace centralized service provision by, for example, combining renewable and storage technologies, actively reducing energy demands, innovative institutional and regulatory frameworks, and alternative ownership structures. Many European cities are building a new generation of heating and cooling systems based on hybrid heating networks at various temperatures and spatial scales, as well as experimenting with off-grid solutions from multiple sources and storage systems tailored to highly localized heat/cooling demands and built environments. These developments involve changing actor networks in (co)providing, using, and governing energy services and they raise new governance challenges to ensure environmental sustainability, accountability, socio-spatial solidarity, and energy security. 

Building on empirical studies on heterogeneous and/or distributed energy systems in the South and North, the international roundtable workshop has three main objectives: first, it aims to extend current academic debates on heterogeneous energy infrastructures beyond North-South divides. Until today, research on heterogeneous energy infrastructures in Southern cities has been largely disconnected from that on distributed energy systems in the North. Explorations of how key analytical abstractions could facilitate conversations on similarities, variations, and differences of heterogeneous energy infrastructure across variegated spatial contexts are still rare, as are international comparisons. These could, however, help overcome empirical ‘particularism’ (Storper and Scott, 2016) and the transfer of analytical results from cities of the global South to cities of the global North (and vice versa) to consolidate theory-building. Second, the workshop proposes to address the complexities involved in governing spatially, institutionally, and technologically heterogeneous energy systems. Papers will engage with the institutional arrangements and power dynamics that govern the co-existence and coordination of various state actors, private actors, users, energy communities etc., involved in providing urban energy services within different spatial contexts and at various scales. While much of the research on heterogeneous energy systems has focused on local non-state actors, user-led ‘energy communities’, and/or intermediaries or informal actors in ‘filling gaps’ in the provision of centralized services or promoting sustainable energy, the workshop is also specifically interested in the state’s role in (re)producing and coordinating heterogeneous infrastructures. Finally, we encourage authors to move beyond the problematization of heterogeneous infrastructures toward engaging with propositions for energy futures, i.e., ‘for what could be (as opposed to what ought to be)’ (Baptista and Cirolia, 2022). Besides critical empirical analyses, authors are asked to speak directly to policy implications and engage more explicitly with alternative governance approaches to heterogeneous infrastructures.

Embracing these objectives, we are interested in contributions that address new challenges and opportunities for the urban governance of heterogeneous energy infrastructures. In the workshop, we ask questions such as:

  • How do/can governments, planners, regulators, utility companies, engineers, and energy communities better coordinate decentralized and off-grid technologies, small island grids, storage systems, and multiple (co-)providers and their relation to incumbent centralized energy systems to accelerate the decarbonization of energy systems?
  • In which way does the governance of heterogeneous/distributed energy systems call for a convergence/better coordination of energy planning and spatial planning?
  • Where, when, and for whom do/should such systems of co-provision complement or even substitute networked service provision?
  • How do/can regulators and planners develop/implement quality standards for decentralized technologies and service providers whose accountability has hitherto been limited? How can service contracts, standards, etc. be designed that are both flexible and effective?
  • What are the implications of heterogeneous energy infrastructures for the universal supply of energy services at similar costs and quality for all? What implications do heterogeneous energy systems have for the (differential) affordability of services/energy poverty, public service standards, and socio-spatial solidarities?
  • How do (and can) utility companies technically manage infrastructure networks that are embedded in a complex bricolage of technical solutions that raise new issues of, e.g., compatibility and balancing energy loads, interface management, recovery of costs, and differentiated service levels and tariffs?
  • Which politics are at play in stimulating or inhibiting transformations toward heterogeneous (or hybrid and distributed) systems and in managing/governing them? 

We particularly invite empirical papers with conceptual, methodological, and critical ambitions. We welcome case studies focusing on urban contexts in the global North or South, comparative work across the global North and South, and studies of urban and infrastructural transformations in historical and contemporary contexts. 

This international roundtable workshop will bring together scholars from different disciplines to reflect on the increasing complexities of urban energy governance from 20 to 23 June 2023 in the 16th-century country estate Winselerhof in the Southern Netherlands (near Maastricht and Aachen). The submitted papers will be distributed in advance and discussed in detail at the conference in a roundtable format with commentators and open floor debates (approx. 40 minutes per paper). Participants will not present their individual papers. Instead, the papers will be summarized and commented on by a discussant in each session to allow for creative discussion. Participants are expected to have read all the papers before the workshop. The roundtable workshop will result in the publication of a selection of papers in an edited volume or in a themed issue of an international peer-reviewed journal. 

Please send a 300-word paper proposal by 18 April 2023 for initial feedback and confirmation of attendance within a week to the organizers below. The deadline for submission of fulldraft papers (approx. 4,000-5,000 words) is 4 June 2023. Accommodations and meals during the workshop will be provided for all participants, and the conference language will be English. We can offer limited travel stipends to early-career scholars and scholars from the global South. 

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Utrecht University).



Baptista, I. and L. R. Cirolia (2022). From problematisation to propositionality: Advancing southern urban infrastructure debates. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 47(4): 927-939.

Basu, S., C. S. E. Bale, T. Wehnert and K. Topp (2019). A complexity approach to defining urban energy systems. Cities 95: 102358.

Beall, J. and Fox, S. (2009) Cities and Development. London and New York: Routledge.

Castán Broto, V. (2019). Urban energy landscapes. Cambridge University Press.

Coutard, O. and J. Rutherford (2016). Beyond the Networked City. Infrastructure reconfigurations and urban change in the North and South. Abingdon, Oxon/New York, Routledge.

Jaglin, S. (2014). Regulating service delivery in Southern cities: Rethinking urban heterogeneity. In: S. Parnell and S. Oldfield (eds.): The Routledge Handbook on Cities of the Global South. Abingdon, Routledge: 434-446.

Karvonen, A. and S. Guy (2018). Urban Energy Landscapes and the Rise of Heat Networks in the United Kingdom. Journal of Urban Technology 25(4): 19-38.

Koepke, M.; J. Monstadt, and F. Pilo’ (2023): Urban electricity governance and the (re)production of heterogeneous electricity constellations in Dar es Salaam. Unpublished manuscript.

Koepke, M.; J. Monstadt; F. Pilo‘ and K. Otsuki (2021). Rethinking energy transitions in Southern cities: urban and infrastructural heterogeneity in Dar es Salaam. Energy Research and Social Science74: 101937.

Lawhon, M.; D. Nilsson; J. Silver et al. (2018). Thinking through heterogeneous infrastructure configurationsUrban Studies 55(4): 720-732.
Lemanski, C. (2021). Broadening the landscape of post-network cities: a call to research the off-grid infrastructure transitions of the non-poor. Landscape Research: 1-13.

Monstadt, J. and S. Schramm (2017). Toward The Networked City? Translating Technological ideals and Planning Models in Water and Sanitation Systems in Dar es Salaam. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 41(1): 104–125.

Pilo’, F. (2022). Infrastructural Heterogeneity: Energy Transition, Power Relations and Solidarity in Kingston, Jamaica. Journal of Urban Technology: 1-20.

Rateau, M. and S. Jaglin (2020). Co-production of access and hybridisation of configurations: a socio-technical approach to urban electricity in Cotonou and Ibadan. International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development: 1-16.

Rutherford, J. and O. Coutard (2014). Urban energy transitions: places, processes and politics of socio-technical change. Urban Studies 51(7): 1353-1377.

Silver, J. (2014). Incremental infrastructures: Material improvisation and social collaboration across post-colonial Accra. Urban Geography, 35(6), 788-804.

Storper, M. and A. J. Scott (2016). Current debates in urban theory: A critical assessment. Urban Studies 53(6): 1114-1136.

Van Horen, B. (2004) Fragmented coherence: solid waste management in Colombo. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 28(4): 757–773.