Data and Energy in the North Sea
Futures Institute, University of Edinburgh & Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Switzerland
Marianna Fernandes is a Ph.D. researcher at the Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Switzerland. Her PhD research investigates data-driven innovation in the mining industry in Chile. Marianna has also written on energy transition and gender, as well as digitization and the future of work.
For my EARTH scholarship, I undertook two months of research at the Edinburgh Futures Institute, University of Edinburgh, and fieldwork in Aberdeen. My project explored the cultural and technological processes through which environments are turned into digital data and the ethical and environmental implications of this phenomenon, especially in the framework of ongoing initiatives to promote alternative energy futures in the North Sea.
What happens when the worlds of data and energy meet in energy transition initiatives? This research explores this puzzle by investigating data-energy encounters in the North Sea.
Off-shore windfarms in Aberdeen
The translation of environments into digital data and algorithmic grammar is a complex process. To start with, it is hard to locate in space. Where does the researcher need to be to conduct ethnography about highly specialized sociotechnical phenomena and spatially isolated environments? My research deals with this methodological challenge of investigating complex encounters that happen far away and out of sight.
Nevertheless, just because we can’t see them does not mean they are not there. Both data and non-fossil fuel energy are considered emergent resource frontiers. Their development can often be interconnected (Bresnihan and Brodie 2020).
Solar panels on the road to Aberdeen from Edinburgh
Energy-data encounters are also challenging to locate in time. As the planet gets warmer and there is an increased public awareness of climate change and its connection to the fossil fuel industry, questions about the future of energy (Watts 2019) inevitably emerge. Sometimes, these questions are interlocked with interrogations about futures and technologies (Lanzeni et al. 2022). But how does the researcher address, in the present, such a future-oriented topic?
During my stay at the Edinburgh Futures Institute and fieldwork trips to Aberdeen, I addressed these questions by unpacking assemblages of materiality, meaning, and morality Field (Jasanoff 2015) involved in making energy transition initiatives in the North Sea. I interviewed people with diverse views on the future of energy in the region and explored the values underpinning their perspectives.
Poster at St. Fitticks Park
Through museum visits and walks along the coast, I also explored the materiality of the infrastructure that enables data-energy encounters there. During these research activities, I had some unexpected multi-species encounters, which reminded me of how multiple life-worlds coexist as industries emerge and decay.
Dolphins at Greyhope Bay
Seals at Greyhope Bay
Through multispecies encounters, interviews, and museum visits, I explored the presence and absence of digital data in energy transition initiatives.