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In what way can social scientists contribute to the debate on electricity supply?

Normally, any discussions about electricity supply are conducted from a technical perspective. The focus tends to be on technical components, such as power plants or power lines. Non-technical components, such as the employees in the power plant or the end user, are not considered separately. This is where the sociological perspective comes in. The sociological approach understands power grids not as an interconnection of mechanical components, but as a socio-technological system composed of artifacts and social forms of action. Instead of focusing only on technological characteristics of a power plant (artifact), a socio-technological system also includes the actions of employees (social norms of action). The added value of this approach is illustrated by an example:

Power outages have far-reaching implications for everyone involved in the power grid. In order to prevent such incidents, for example, power plants are developed to be as resistant to faults as possible. However, since they are controlled by people, in order to minimize the risk of an outage, the employees who control the power plants must also be trained.

With the transition to clean energy, however, there are other aspects to consider. Wind turbines, while environmentally friendly, are dependent on external factors for energy production. One way to solve this problem is to further develop storage facilities so that electricity can be produced in advance. However, this technical approach has disadvantages in that it is very costly and it is not yet possible to store large amounts of energy. In addition, there are energy losses during storage. This is where the sociological approach can help. By examining and understanding customers’ usage behaviour, an optimal interaction between the components of the socio-technological system "power grid" can be made possible. In terms of the wind turbine problem, this means that the power grid can be controlled in such a way that many people use the energy when it is available; i.e., washing machines are switched on when the wind is blowing.  Since less energy needs to be stored this way, the available energy can be used more efficiently.

By dealing with different theories from areas such as "Management of Complex Systems" or "Technology Management", the students of the course "Social Science Innovation Research" acquire knowledge in order to be able to draw on the sociological perspective of complex systems in their professional careers.

More detailed information on the subjects can be found here.

Poster zum Thema Windenergie: Wie kann man auch bei Windstille Energie bereitstellen? Please provide a copyright notice

Location & approach

The  Technical University of Dortmund campus is located near the Dortmund West autobahn junction, where the A45  (Frankfurt-Dortmund) crosses the A40 (Ruhrschnellweg B1). The most convenient autobahn exits are found on the A45 in Dortmund-Eichlinghofen (closer to the south campus) and on the B1 / A40 in Dortmund-Dorstfeld (closer to the north campus). The university is signposted at both exits.

The TU Dortmund has its own S-Bahn station ("Dortmund Universität") on the North Campus. From there, the S-Bahn line S1 runs every 20 or 30 minutes to Dortmund’s central station and in the opposite direction to Düsseldorf’s central station via "Bahnhof Düsseldorf Flughafen". This makes the university directly accessible from the cities of Bochum, Essen, Mülheim an der Ruhr and Duisburg. Furthermore, the TU Dortmund may be reached via buslines 445, 447 and 462.
Individual timetable information for public transport is also available on the website of the Rhine-Ruhr Transport Association, and the Dortmund Transport Authority also offers an interactive route network map.

One of the landmarks of the TU is the H-Bahn overhead monorail which connects the two campuses. Line 1 runs every 10 minutes between the stops Dortmund Eichlinghofen and the Technology Center via Campus South and Dortmund Universität S. Line 2 shuttles every 5 minutes between the stops Campus North and Campus South. It covers this distance in two minutes.

To get from the Dortmund airport to the campus, we recommend taking the "Airport Express" to Dortmund's central train station (20 minutes), and then boarding the S-Bahn there.  A wider range of international flight connections is offered by Düsseldorf Airport, about 60 kilometres away, which can be reached directly by S-Bahn from the university station.