On the Possibilities of Feminist Energy Analytics
Ingrid L. Nelson, assistant professor, Department of Geography and the Environmental Program, faculty affiliate, Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program, University of Vermont
Sustainability professionals on university campuses in the United States are increasingly using computerized systems to track facilities repairs, energy consumption and other data that largely did not exist a decade ago. Sustainability professionals, facilities managers, students and administrators are beginning to turn to the private analytics sector and other resources for strategic management of this growing amount of data. In this regard, institutions of higher education share an important trend with institutions of international development in that they increasingly rely upon professional analysts. Technology assessment and financial analytics are part of a pervasive and growing audit culture that yields frequent cycles of version upgrades, ratings and rankings. Recent literature critiquing audit culture argues for caution, as governing through numbers can move decisions affecting particular places and people from political spheres of governance to a technical realm of algorithms, experts and administrators. But what do energy analysts and other experts do and why should different feminists care? I draw from my ongoing ethnographic study of energy analytics services marketed to institutions of higher education in a broader context of their campus sustainability efforts. In examining networks of sub-metering devices, popular equations signifying measures of energy usage and efficiency, online interactive energy dashboard platforms and professional meetings at sustainability conferences, I identify practices and discourses that demand collective critical feminist inquiry. I also argue that doing feminist work continues to require close attention to the politics of the production of knowledge and claims to expertise in the energy transition. Energy analytics is a critical site of emerging claims to expertise and to power. Feminist scholars have an opportunity to work together to identify those practices and discourses within energy analytics that open up spaces for a diverse and intersectional feminist energy politics.