Ulrikke Wethal: Practices, provision and protest: Power outages in rural Norwegian households
In Energy Research & Social Science, 2020.
Electricity plays a vital role in everyday life. However, electricity-dependent practices are often taken for granted, and the complex underlying infrastructure tends to be invisible – until power supply is disrupted. Drawing on qualitative interviews with rural Norwegian households, this article takes practices as the starting point for examining how daily life changes during power outages and how households experience the consequences of such outages. The aim is to use households’ perspectives to understand the consequences of power outages, and show how disruption influences relations between infrastructures, practices, customers and providers. Using the three elements of practice – materials, competences, meanings – I demonstrate how power failures temporarily break the linkages between elements in electricity-dependent practices, and how households forge linkages between other items and technologies, embodied knowledge and competences, and new meanings, in order to continue daily life. This re-assembling of elements in practices demonstrates the complexity of power-outage consequences, and explains how rural Norwegian households can cope relatively well with lengthy power outages. The analysis also sheds light on the difficulties of trying to reduce consequences to monetary terms. Rather than worrying about the economic costs of power outages, households focus on maintaining their daily routines. The ability to adapt during outages demonstrates a relatively high level of flexibility, but this does not mean that households do not value having secure power supplies.