Digital Societies for Sustainable Energy Transitions (MEE128)

While digitalization is often understood as supporting a less resource-intensive and more energy-efficient society, this assumption has only partly come true. Regulation and governance are needed to ensure that digitalization will contribute to, and not work against, a sustainable energy transition. To this end, this course tries to answer two guiding questions:

1) To what extent and under what conditions can digitalization and smart systems support a transition towards a low carbon, low energy use society?

2) What are related implications for different sectors of society? In one part of the course, pertinent theory will be introduced to analyze the digitalization of society, and in a second part, an integrative perspective will be taken by focusing on e.g. smart cities, housing, and transport and discuss their possible contribution to a sustainable energy transition.

Course description for study year 2023-2024. Please note that changes may occur.


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In the context of what has been described as the fourth industrial revolution, energy is decreasingly used for the production of material objects (e.g. books or newspapers, archives, sound carriers), because objects have increasingly become digital, if not virtual. In its basic form, digitalization hence encompasses technological and material changes, as well as a move towards increased electricity use. However, digitalization is often understood much more broadly, i.e. as "the way in which many domains of social life are restructured around digital communication and media infrastructures" (Brennen and Kreiss 2014). Digitalization has changed how society interacts (e.g. citizens with the government, social movements, or the general public) and how society relates to the environment. Digitalization additionally aims at making societies "smart". "Smart" here refers to connecting digital devices and systems "seamlessly" and "interactively" to allow for real-time responsiveness. "This involves the use of data to better understand and inform, to change behaviors (at the micro and macro level), to manage and control more efficiently, and to respond in real-time" (Thorne and Griffiths 2010, 92). Often, because of presumed efficiency increases, "smart" has been regarded as "sustainable". However, whether enhanced digitalization or "smartness" contributes to a sustainable energy transition depends on how societies regulate and govern digitalization.

Against this background, this course will basically try to answer two guiding questions: 1) To what extent and under what conditions can digitalization and smart systems support a transition towards a more sustainable society? 2) What are related implications for different sectors of society?

Digitalization in different sectors is discussed in three regards: an introduction is provided to digitalization in a particular sector and related smart systems; additionally, societal questions pertaining to digitalization and smart systems will be discussed, including its regulation; concepts and social theory are introduced that should support a structured analysis of sustainable digital societies.

Additional to a focus on digitalization in different sectors, an integrated view is taken: by looking at examples of "smart cities" and by discussing what digitalization and smart systems imply for ecological citizenship.

The form of assessment in this course is an individual paper. In the paper, students apply knowledge from the course to the analysis of a "smart" case study of their choice.

SDGs related to this course

By asking how digitalization may contribute to a sustainable energy transition, the course provides knowledge relevant for SDG7 and SDG13. With its focus on citizenship and urban communities, the course additionally contributes knowledge relevant for achieving SDG11. As the course takes a critical view of how institutions and governance can make digitalization sustainable, knowledge conducive to SDG16 is also provided.

Learning outcome


On completion of this course, a student should be able to:

  • Describe digitalization processes in different sectors of society.
  • Critically assess the effects of digitalization on society and the environment.
  • Discuss the role of regulation for facilitating sustainable digitalization processes.
  • Distinguish between different regulatory approaches to digitalization.
  • Employ knowledge from the course to critically assess a digitalization case.


On completion of this course, a student should be able to:

  • Integrate and organize knowledge from different disciplines in a coherent analysis.
  • Make transparent how they come to conclusions.
  • Communicate effectively knowledge from the cou.rse
  • Provide constructive feedback in the context of peer reviews.
  • Apply "internet essentials" in their use of the internet.

General competence

On completion of this course, a student should be able to:

  • Critically assess socio-technical processes in their sustainability impacts.
  • Make effective oral presentations.
  • Organize knowledge in a coherent paper.
  • Critically apply and evaluate relevant literature.

Required prerequisite knowledge


Recommended prerequisites

Students should be familiar with reading academic literature from the social sciences and / or willing to get acquainted with literature from the social sciences and related concepts and theories.


Form of assessment Weight Duration Marks Aid
Individual semester essay 1/1 Letter grades

Coursework requirements

Individual assignment

Throughout the semester, students have to participate in a certain amount of seminars. Every seminar, an assignment is discussed, and at the end of the seminar, students have to submit a written response to the assignment task.

Another compulsory assignment is a presentation at the end of the semester.

Course teacher(s)

Course coordinator:

Benjamin Ronald Silvester

Course teacher:

Anders Riel Müller

Course teacher:

Siddharth Sareen

Course teacher:

Siddharth Sareen

Course teacher:

Tegg Westbrook

Study Program Director:

Liv Åsa-Maria Sunnercrantz

Course teacher:

Finn Arne Jørgensen

Head of Department:

Oluf Langhelle

Method of work

  • Lectures
  • Discussions
  • Seminars with written assignment
  • Guest lectures

Open for

Energy, Environment and Society - Master's Degree Programme

Course assessment

There must be an early dialogue between the course coordinator, the student representative and the students. The purpose is feedback from the students for changes and adjustments in the course for the current semester.In addition, a digital course evaluation must be carried out at least every three years. Its purpose is to gather the students experiences with the course.


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