Many academic approaches that claim to consider the broad set of social and ethical issues relevant to energy systems sit side-by-side without conversation. This paper considers three such literatures: Value Sensitive Design, Responsible Research and Innovation and the Energy Justice framework. We argue that whilst definitions of these concepts appear, on face value, to be united by a common normative goal – improving the social outcomes and mitigating sensitivities at the interface of technological energy systems and human livelihoods –, their existence in academic silos has obscured complementarities, which, once synthesized, might increase their overall academic and practical relevance. This paper fills the emergent gap of critically discussing the concepts and their strengths and challenges as well as how they could contribute to each other. It compares: (1) the things that they claim to tackle, (2) the solutions they claim to provide and (3) the points that clearly distinguish one approach from another (if any at all). Not only does this make this paper the first of its kind, but it also makes it an impactful one. With each concept gaining various degrees of support in academia and practice, our discussion reveals where tensions exist and where positive gains can be made. We identify five opportunities for collaboration and integration with implications for the achievement of energy systems that are acceptable from a societal and ethical perspective.
- Conceptual review
- Energy justice
- Energy systems
- Responsible research and innovation
- Value sensitive design