Aïda Nciri : The divergent diffusion of district energy systems in France and Alberta: state politics and the socio-material and socio-spatial construction of low-carbon transitions

Directeur de thèse : Olivier Coutard, Byron Miller (University of Calgary) (http://geog.ucalgary.ca/profiles/byron-miller)

How do different state structures and urban and energy socio-material contexts explain the uneven
diffusion of district energy systems (DES) in urban areas of France and Alberta between 2000 and 2014?
To answer this question, this thesis analyses the processes inherent to low-carbon energy transitions
through socio-spatial and socio-material lenses, considering power relations and state structure. At the
intersection of urban planning and energy systems, DES proves practical to explore the nexus between
low-carbon governance, energy governance, and urban governance. Theoretical frameworks employed in
the analysis include 1) recent contributions from (urban) transition studies and socio-technical systems; 2)
a Lefebvrian conceptualisation of socio-space and social changes; and 3) Jessop’s (1990, 2008) strategicrelational
approach of state power. An original inter-scale comparative research allows for examining the
uneven construction of low-carbon energy policies in France and Alberta, and their relations with state
structures, and existing urban and energy systems. Jessop et al.’s Territory-Place-Scale-Network (TPSN)
framework is mobilised to overcome the issues of commensurability and spontaneous comparison. This
theoretical and methodological approaches provide a robust demonstration that the provincial scale in
Canada, and the national scale in France, are the scales dominating the construction of low-carbon energy
transitions and urban governance. Despite similar state powers, French and Albertan governments
developed different state policies on low-carbon transition, highlighting selectivity in the exercise of state
capacities. They differently engaged and enabled local urban governments and developed different state
interventions on DES. In France, state-sponsored DES activated new channels of growth compatible with
existing dominant socio-materialities; in Alberta, state-funded DES experiments failed to activate new
channels of growth compatible with dominant socio-materialities. This thesis posits that selective
construction of low-carbon policies depends on the material interests of dominant energy and state actors.
In other words, the state does not seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by all means. Rather, it seeks
to reproduce dominant socio-material status quo, adapting low-carbon policies to existing socio-material
configuration. Ultimately, this thesis validates how the concepts of state structure and the TPSN
framework can enrich the theorisation of space and power relations for (urban) transition studies.

Soutenance de la thèse le mercredi 21 novembre 2018

Année d’inscription : 2014
Ecole doctorale : VTT – Ville, transports et Territoire

Composition du jury
Julia Affolderbach, Maîtresse de Conférences, University of Hull, Royaume-Uni, rapporteure 
Sophie Van Neste, Professeur, Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), Montréal, Canada, rapporteure
Olivier Coutard, Directeur de Recherche CNRS, LATTS, Université Paris-Est, co-directeur
Noel Keough, Professeur, University of Calgary, examinateur
Byron Miller, Professeur, Université de Calgary, Canada, co-directeur
Jonathan Rutherford, Chargé de Recherche ENPC, LATTS, Université Paris-Est, examinateur.

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