Energy systems, socio-spatial relations, and power: the contested adoption of district heating with combined heat and power in Sweden, 1945-2011


  • Aida Nciri University of Calgary
  • Byron Miller University of Calgary



energy transitions, socio-spatial relations, district heating, combined heat and power


District heating (DH) and combined heat and power (CHP) are often considered complementary green technologies (DH-CHP) that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They are, however, complex given their operation at the intersection of shifting socio-spatial relations and political power struggles. We investigate the political processes behind the diffusion (and blocked diffusion) of DH and CHP in Sweden from 1945 until 2011, considered through the lens of Jessop, Brenner and Jones’ (2008) Territory, Place, Scale and Networks (TPSN) framework. Foregrounding the socio-spatial constitution of policy decisions, we examine Sweden’s changing patterns of DH and CHP adoption. First, we present the TPSN framework that considers space as simultaneously a structuring principle, enabling and constraining action, as well as a field of operation in which agency is exercised. Second, we examine the socio-spatial structuration of energy systems. Third, we analyse how the changing socio-spatial constitution of each socio-technical system affects key actors’ interests and actions, including the spatial strategies they develop to advance their interests. District heating rapidly diffused across Swedish municipalities in large part because it was considered to be urban infrastructure aligned with the mission of municipalities and was not in direct competition with other actors supplying heat. CHP electricity generation, on the other hand, was initially seen as a benefit to municipal utilities, but was later considered a threat to the interests of large-scale utilities and blocked, only to gain favour again when changing sociospatial conditions made CHP an asset to large-scale utilities. Our analysis suggests that technological diffusion and blockage is far from a straightforward matter. It requires examination of the dynamics of multi-level governance and overlapping socio-technical systems. Socio-technical regimes are in constant evolution and actors struggle to adapt to new circumstances. Socio-technical systems are not merely material systems, but an expression of dynamic power relations and adaptation strategies.

Author Biography

Byron Miller, University of Calgary

Byron Miller received his Ph.D. (Geography) from the University of Minnesota in 1995, M.A. (Geography) from Arizona State University in 1984, and B.Sc. (Geography) from The Pennsylvania State University in 1978.  He worked as an urban planner for the city of Scottsdale, Arizona, in the early 1980s, spent three years living and studying in Freiburg, Germany, in the late 1980s, and taught at the University of Cincinnati (1993-2000) before taking his current position at the University of Calgary as Coordinator of the Urban Studies Program. In Calgary he teaches courses on urbanization and urban planning, urban social geography, urban politics and governance, globalization, and field courses on urban sustainability in Europe as well as a seminar on the history and philosophy of geography.  In 2000 Miller was a summer fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.   He has served as a board member of the Urban Geography Specialty Group (1999-2001) and the European Geography Specialty Group (2009-2011) of the American Association of Geographers, as an editorial board member of Geography Compass (2008-present) and Spaces and Flows (2012-present), and as a board member of Sustainable Calgary (2008-present). He has also served on numerous City of Calgary planning committees including the Downtown Urban Structure Plan committee, the ImagineCalgary Urban Governance Working Group, and the ImagineCalgary Steering Committee, and currently serves on the Community Representation Framework Task Force (2016-2018).  He was one of two citizens appointed by Calgary City Council to serve on the Plan-It Implementation Committee (2009-2010), addressing the implementation of Calgary’s new 60 year Master Development and Transportation Plan (“Plan-It”).




How to Cite

Nciri, A., & Miller, B. (2017). Energy systems, socio-spatial relations, and power: the contested adoption of district heating with combined heat and power in Sweden, 1945-2011. DIE ERDE – Journal of the Geographical Society of Berlin, 148(4), 212–228.