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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 which conditions can digitalization and smart systems support a transition towards a low carbon, low energy use society? 2) What are the related implications for different sectors of society? The course will have an in-depth look at digitalization in the most energy-demanding sectors, i.e. the building sector, industry, and transport, as well as at digitalization in nature conservation and agriculture. In the second part, it will then take an integrative perspective and introduce smart cities and digital citizenship and discuss their possible contribution to a sustainable energy transition.

Course description for study year 2021-2022. Please note that changes may occur.





Vekting (SP)


Semester undervisningsstart


Antall semestre






Learning outcome


On completion of this course, a well-performing 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 well-performing 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 course
  • 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 report
  • critically apply and evaluate relevant literature.

Course contents

In the context of what has been described as the third industrial revolution, energy is decreasingly used for the production of material objects (e.g. books or newspapers, archives, sound carriers), as 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, and 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 an increase in 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 which conditions can digitalization and smart systems support a transition towards a low carbon, low energy use society? 2) What are the related implications for different sectors of society?

To this end, the course takes a sectoral perspective by looking at the building sector, the transport sector, and the industrial sector. It will then also look into the role of digitalization for agriculture and nature conservation. Digitalization is hereby discussed in three regards: an introduction is provided to digitalization in the particular sector and related smart systems; additionally, societal questions pertaining to digitalization and smart systems will be discussed, including related regulatory responses; and finally, concepts and social theory are introduced that should support a structured analysis of sustainable digital societies.

Apart from a focus on digitalization in different sectors, an integrated view is additionally taken: by looking at examples of "smart cities" and their sustainability, and in particular energy implications; and by discussing what digitalization and smart systems imply for ecological citizenship.

Forms 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 SD13. 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 for SGD16 is also provided.

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.
Eksamen / vurdering

Written semester essay and written exam

Vurderingsform Vekting Varighet Karakter Hjelpemiddel
Individual written semester essay 1/2 A - F
Written exam 1/2 3 Hours A - F

Course teacher(s)
Course coordinator: Bettina Bluemling
Course teacher: Anders Riel Müller
Course teacher: Siddharth Sareen
Course teacher: Tegg Westbrook
Course teacher: Finn Arne Jørgensen
Course teacher: Oluf Langhelle
Method of work
  • Lectures
  • Discussions
  • Guest lectures
  • Workshops
Course assessment
Student evaluation will be carried out in accordance with the Faculty of Social Science evaluation system.
The syllabus can be found in Leganto