Silje Totland

Silje Totland

A green transition away from fossil-based fuels is a frequently debated topic these days. Could it be that we are thinking about it all wrong, and that the solution has been right under our noses the whole time?

In November 2016, one of the most influential nordic climate gatherings, the ZERO conference, was hosted for the second time in Oslo. Norwegian politicians, industries from all over the world, entrepreneurs, scientists and members of the royal family were among the speakers, sharing experiences, results and goals for the future. The conference theme, “from fossil to a green unique position”, dealt with the Norwegian transition from the golden age of oil and gas, to a desired golden age of clean technology. The conference was introduced by proclaiming that Norway needs new heroes. We are all those heroes.

A problem that divides
This transition is not just up to the politicians and the industry. «We need to call out for a Norwegian dugnad, proclaimed the leader of the Labour Party, Jonas Gahr Støre. A dugnad is when a group of people work collectively for the greater good, and not individual advantage. Just prior, Erna Solberg, the Prime Minister of Norway, had asserted that Norway needs a broad set of solutions. Not one, but many, and they should all be green. It seems that the politicians agree, but they need help from us all, as a collective transitional dugnad. We must demand from the politicians that they go forth and set the framework for this transition to be manageable. A key message repeated in various ways throughout the conference was the warning against a dichotomy. This transition is not about ‘fossil fuel vs green energy’. By designing the transition as a dichotomy between fossil and green, we are creating a simplification that leaves out an infinite number of alternative solutions. By simplifying science, we get what is referred to as the dominant model of science. Simplification leads to distortion. How can ordinary people make decisions if they do not know the science, the technology, or the possibilities? At the same time, if we are to call for a dugnad, we need everyone to join. How can we achieve this?

A place for absolution?
We should not abandon fossil fuels to go green.
Realistically, we expect fossil fuels will be with us for another twenty years or more. We actually need oil to go green. At least for a little while. But how on earth can fossils be green? I would like to illustrate with a story. Coffee, like oil, is widely consumed all over the world. But did you know that a freshly brewed cup of coffee contains only 0.2% of farmers´ produce? We have to rethink coffee. To do this, we have to do a lot more with what we have. The remaining produce is suitable for growing mushrooms. Such mushrooms can have many applications. They can be animal fodder, or work as absorbents in textiles. They can even be used to make UVresistant paint, or soap! This opens a new market for coffee farmers. Using the excess produce,
some farmers can now earn six times as much. This represents a new way of thinking, but it’s not ‘newly invented’ innovative thinking. This is everyday thinking of designers. This way of looking at the problem as a solution requires creativity, and is not necessarily based on science

In a peaceful transition we trust
The ZERO conference was loaded with examples of incremental innovations, very much suitable for a dugnad. They already grow mushrooms in Tanzania, and we can also do this in Norway. After all, we drink a lot of coffee and produce a lot of coffee grounds. Our ability to do this, however, depends on an innovative state of mind that sets the framework for this to happen. The Norwegian Agency for Public Management and eGovernment, DIFI, talked about their new regulations for green and innovative public procurements. Previously, it was compulsory for public procurement to be 30% green. All procurements from January 1st and onwards, are designed to increase this number. This is done to make it easier for ‘heroes’ to make green decisions and think creatively about the way they do business.

This article was first published in the January 2017 edition of Teknovatøren.

“Shhh! We have a plan”

Haakon NormannHåkon Normann, PhD candidate
Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture

For a while, my eldest daughter’s favourite book was a simple little book that feature four characters attempting to catch a bird. Every time they see the bird they whisper: ”Shhh! We have a plan”. But despite several different plans, they never succeed in catching the bird (birds are after all not so easy to catch). As I have followed the recent debate about a need for transforming the Norwegian oil and gas sector, the same words have every now and then popped up in my head. ”Shhh! We have a plan”. Not so much because I see a plan. Rather, these words appear because I question whether our politicians have a feasible plan for how the Norwegian oil and gas sector can be transformed.

During the 2000s, the Norwegian Word “omstilling” (restructuring or changeover) has become increasingly visible in the Norwegian public debate – especially in the wake of lower oil prices during the last two years. The debate about “omstilling” is intimately related to a broader debate about sustainability transitions and industry transformation. Neither the current or previous government have earned much credibility when it comes to ability or willingness to transform the Norwegian oil and gas sector or contribute to a broader energy transition. In one instance, there will be talk about 1.5 degree targets, Paris and “the greatest challenge of our time” (another expression that has been overused since Al Gore and the IPCC won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007).

In the next instance, there will be talk about the need to keep the wheels turning in the oil and gas sector. Due to the latter, the government decided in August this year to start the 24th licencing round and once more flagged support for explorationactivity in the Barents Sea. This seemingly double communication can be provocative for some. At the same time, the government’s approach is understandable. The oil industry represents jobs and large state revenues. This puts pressure on any government. From sustainability transitions and innovation studies, we know that transitions are often met with resistance from established industries. This is partly because transitions challenge the
revenue base for established industries, and partly because established firms tend to innovate in areas that they are already familiar with. We can
therefore refer to the Norwegian industrial structure as path-dependent and locked in to a fossil based energy system. A major restructuring (or transition) of the fossil based energy system has two major implications. First, it requires a massive expansion of emission free alternatives. This is already happening, first and foremost driven by reduced costs related to electricity produced from solar and wind. This also provides an opportunity for so called “green growth”, and is something Norwegian industry might benefit from. Second, (and arguably more importantly) an energy transition will require a dismantling and ultimately discontinuation of the use of fossil fuels. This creates a dilemma for states with large fossil fuel reserves and strong ambitions on climate change.

The last few decades have seen the development of great tools within the field of innovation studies for studying technological development. We have accumulated pretty good knowledge about factors that can limit and accelerate the growth of new solutions such as emission free energy technologies. There has been less interest among innovation researchers to study how to unsettle established economic, social and political interests. However, in recent years several avenues have been opened up for analysing this aspect of transitions. I will briefly point to two of these. The first avenue is what is now referred to as «the politics of transitions». Transformation of established industries tends to be highly political. In this area it is therefore of interest to study how political processes influence transitions towards sustainability (see for instance Geels et al. 2016; Raven et al. 2016). Another interesting approach involves the study of how a mix of policies need to contribute towards the growth of new industries and to provide disincentives for investments in established industries (Kivimaa & Kern 2016). Both of these approaches are relevant for studying energy transitions in a Norwegian context.

I am certain that there are many in the leading positions in both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party (and maybe even in the Progress Party) who recognise the need to transform the oil and gas sector both from a business and climate perspective. I trust that many of these wish to introduce policies that contribute towards such a transformation. However, I am not convinced that they have a plan for how this can be achieved whilst at the same time maintain employment and state revenues at a reasonably acceptable level. I therefore think they need some help. Discontinuation through transformation is one area where innovation studies should be able to make a valuable contribution. If the field of innovation studies is to stay relevant in this area, we should try to better our understanding of how a financially sound and politically feasible transformation and discontinuation of established industries can come about.

This article was first published in the January 2017 edition of Teknovatøren.

Makers’Hub: Changing how refugees live, and how architects think

Joar Kvamsås
By Joar Kvamsås

The young interior architects of the design collective Makers’Hub are creating tangible projects to improve the living conditions in Norwegian refugee centres. In the process, they are not only trying to open the eyes of the refugee centre industry to the value of housing quality, but also to change how Norwegian architects look at their own profession.

I sat down with two of Makers’Hub’s founders, Else Abrahamsen and Ida B. Wold in their offices at Bislett. With bright surfaces mixed with wooden textures and clean lines, the architecture office is a stark contrast to the kinds of spaces the two interior architects work with in refugee centres.

The Maker'sHub Team
The Maker’sHub Team: Karam Kifah Thanoon, Jack Hughes, Maria Årthun, Ida Bergli Wold and Else Abrahamsen

“Interior architecture is an industry which traditionally focuses on making sort of posh, aesthetically pleasing rooms,” Else  explains. “We’re taking the work outside of the office. We want to be hands-on, and everything we do should involve the residents”. For the last year, the Makers’Hub team has been working at the Torshov refugee centre, where they have completed a number of projects to improve the living conditions of its residents. “The entire asylum seeking process robs people of their identity – they feel like they are losing themselves,” Else says. She speaks passionately and confidently, displaying the demeanour of someone who has had a lot of experience pitching her project mission.

The initiative was inspired by research on Norwegian refugee centres coming out of NTNU since 2012, which reports on widespread poor housing quality. Maker’sHub’s projects use a method of participatory architecture, in which refugee centre residents are involved in redesigning and redecorating their living spaces. This method was pioneered by Susanne Hoffmann, and her Berlin-based practice Die Baupiloten. According to her, users’ experiences are invaluable in the design process.

2_Workshop_IARK21S4A8912“We are trying to make the institution feel more like a home”, says Ida. “Though it is a temporary home, it’s about belonging to the place, by tying themselves to it, by making something of their own”. Makers’Hub also finds it important that their designs reflect the diverse cultural backgrounds of refugee centre residents. “The people who live at the refugee centres have a different culture from ours; they connect with different things than we do.”

So far, the team has done their work on a voluntary basis, but they are now looking to make the organisation their main source of income. Having started their work with the non-profit organisation Norsk Folkehjelp, they are now in contact with commercial refugee centre operators. “Slowly the refugee centre industry is starting to understand why housing quality is important, and what it can do for the residents,” Else says. But the current institutional structure poses some challenges. “We think the refugee centre model right now is really inefficient. You open and close centres all over the place, and you never go for continuity. Every contract is reopened for negotiation every three years, which makes it really difficult to achieve continuity for anyone, and this is a major reason why they don’t invest in housing quality.”

Else Abrahamsen has spent the last year promoting their ideas to policy makers at debates and conferences. Their projects from Torshov have been invaluable in getting attention to their ideas. “We have these tangible things that we have made. We need stuff to put on display”, Else says. “And that’s when people started contacting us, because we are the only ones working in this field right now.”

1S4A9368MakersHub_the-pavillion-55The founders of Makers’Hub also hope that their work can set an example for others in the architecture industry to volunteer their skills and knowledge for not-for-profit projects. “Getting in the door with refugee centres is a difficult process,”  Else says. One of the first things Makers’Hub did at Torshov was to invite interior architects in to map out  the space at the refugee centre. They have also been reaching out to major players in the architecture and interior architecture industry by going to conferences, holding talks, and even setting up a temporary ‘People’s Kitchen’ at the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture (DogA) with volunteers from the Torshov refugee centre.

Through their project at Torshov, Else and her co-workers have learned a lot about the relationships you have to navigate between actors such as the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration, the landowners of the buildings and the refugee centre operators.  As they decide where to take the organisation in the future, this will perhaps be the most important knowledge base they can leverage. “We want to be an umbrella organisation that can help people get contacts,” Ida says. “We want to link more actors together and create connections.”

The three young innovators are leading the way for socially conscious design, showing other architects by example what is possible. And through their hands-on approach and tangible results, they may open up the eyes of the larger institutions and commercial actors to the value of refugee centre housing quality, and show how architects can contribute to improving the day-to-day existence of refugees.


This article was first published in the January 2017 edition of Teknovatøren.

You can find out more about Makers’Hub through their website and facebook page.


A TALE OF TWO CITIES: How Oslo is pushing the boundaries of urban mobility


By Cyriac George

Current modes of urban mobility are unsustainable. Although the path towards sustainability remains uncertain, Oslo offers important insights into how it can be achieved and potential conflicts along the way.

Most discussions concerning sustainable urban mobility transitions have identified one common enemy – the private fossil fuel driven automobile. The call to innovate our way away from this problem tends to go in two directions. According to one vision, the main problem is the energy source – replace fossil fuels with cleaner renewable sources and problem solved. The other vision sees the car itself as the problem – what comes out of the tailpipe is just the beginning of the problem. I will refer to these two visions, respectively, as the clean car and post car pathways to sustainable urban mobility. By clean car, I do not mean to imply that the alternatives to fossil fuel based automobiles (e.g. battery electric, hydrogen fuel cell) are completely clean, but merely that they are comparatively cleaner than fossil fuel. And by post car, I do not mean that cars will disappear, but that they will lose their preeminent position in the mobility system and be one among many options (mostly walking, bicycling and public transit). The two visions are not mutually exclusive, not yet at least. And there’s one place in the world where both visions are being pushed simultaneously. In many ways, Oslo is ground zero for both visions.

If one were to search Google for “electric car capital of the world” the results would almost entirely consist of articles and reports about the Oslo. Although Oslo is not home to any significant research and development related to clean cars, it is home to the most aggressive efforts to promote the implementation and adoption of such technologies. In fact, no other city in the world comes even close to achieving Oslo’s level of electric vehicle market penetration, which as of this year is approaching a third of all new vehicle sales. Oslo’s clean car (electric) credentials are obvious. Efforts to promote a clean car future include various incentives to purchase and/or use an electric vehicle such as exemption from vehicle registration fees and sales tax, free municipal parking, free charging stations and access to express/collective lanes on roads. And they’re working. Oslo’s push for a post car pathway is more nuanced, however, and can only be appreciated with a long-term perspective. The city has, over several decades, built a remarkable public transit network (nowhere else in the world will you find five metro rail lines serving just over half a million residents), land use restrictions along periphery that prevent sprawl (in most directions, when the built up part of the city ends, it ends),development of bicycling infrastructure and services, rapid expansion of car sharing platforms and perhaps most importantly, the creation and expansion of pedestrian zones and areas free of private vehicles. The proposal to close off sections of the downtown area to private cars by 2019 would give Oslo the largest car free city centers in Europe. Any of these on their own would not be noteworthy, but put together, they offer a radically new vision for how a city is built and how it’s residents should get around.

For the time being, there is a precarious union between the clean car and post car visions. Their common disdain for the private fossil fuel car ensures that they work together to move beyond the current urban mobility system but as we begin to move forward, conflicts are inevitable. The clean car vision for the future maintains most of our existing transportation infrastructure and urban planning practices. The only major change would be that petrol and diesel filling stations would be replaced by charging stations. The post car future on the other hand seeks to dismantle and reconfigure the current system.In a post car world, the roads will no longer belong to the cars but will be shared by pedestrians, cyclists, market stalls and playing children; we would live in denser cities and work closer to our homes; we would have access to cars but will most likely not own them; and importantly, what cars do remain would most likely be electric.

We should not, however, harbor any illusions that Oslo is, in any way, a typical city. It is one of the wealthiest cities in the world and has reliable and affordable access to clean renewable electric power. But Oslo does offer a glimpse into the future in terms of how the two visions can be put into practice as innovations drive down the prices of cleaner technologies and climate change exerts evermore pressure to abandon the current mobility system.

Both visions are replete with innovative activity but there is a marked asymmetry in the amount of attention each receives. Some innovations are flashy. They grab headlines and seek to draw a neat line from problem to solution. Clean car innovations often fall into this category and a good example of this is Tesla’s electric car and charging infrastructure. Tesla founder Elon Musk is, in many ways, the heir to Steve Jobs in terms of his command for attention and demand he is able to generate for his industry shaping products. Other innovations are more inconspicuous – they are sounassuming that one could be forgiven for not noticing them at all. Most post car innovations are of this nature and a good examples include mixed use zoning practices (combining commercial and residential buildings rather than segregating them) and traffic calming roads (e.g. narrower roads and stone paved streets) that prioritize pedestrian mobility over automobiles. Transitions often involves both types of innovation, and given that they can be so easily overlooked, the more inconspicuous ones deserve a little extra effort in terms of finding them, understanding them and bringing them into practice.


This article was first published in the 12th issue of Teknovatøren, January 2017

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