Peak electricity demand and social practice theories: reframing the role of change agents in the energy sector

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Demand managers currently draw on a limited range of psychology and economic theories in order to shift and shed peak electricity demand. These theories place individual consumers and their attitudes, behaviours and choices at the centre of the problem. This paper reframes the issue of peak electricity demand using theories of social practices, contending that the 'problem' is one of transforming, technologically-mediated social practices. It reflects on how this body of theory repositions and refocuses the roles and practices of professions charged with the responsibility and agency for affecting and managing energy demand. The paper identifies three areas where demand managers could refocus their attention: (i) enabling co-management relationships with consumers; (ii) working beyond their siloed roles with a broader range of human and non-human actors; and (iii) promoting new practice 'needs' and expectations. It concludes by critically reflecting on the limited agency attributed to 'change agents' such as demand managers in dominant understandings of change. Instead, the paper proposes the need to identify and establish a new group of change agents who are actively but often unwittingly involved in reconfiguring the elements of problematic peaky practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-234
Number of pages9
JournalEnergy Policy
Publication statusPublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Demand management
  • Peak demand
  • Social practice theory

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