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Open AccessArticle

Energy Efficiency as a Wicked Problem

Division of Energy Systems, Department of Management and Engineering, Linköping University, Linköping 581 83, Sweden
Department of Building, Energy and Environment Engineering, University of Gävle, 801 76 Gävle, Sweden
IIIEE, International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics, Lund University, 223 50 Lund, Sweden
Division of Applied Thermodynamics and Fluid Mechanics, Department of Management and Engineering, Linköping University, 581 83 Linköping, Sweden
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2019, 11(6), 1569;
Received: 4 February 2019 / Revised: 8 March 2019 / Accepted: 11 March 2019 / Published: 14 March 2019
Together with increased shares of renewable energy supply, improved energy efficiency is the foremost means of mitigating climate change. However, the energy efficiency potential is far from being realized, which is commonly explained by the existence of various barriers to energy efficiency. Initially mentioned by Churchman, the term “wicked problems” became established in the 1970s, meaning a kind of problem that has a resistance to resolution because of incomplete, contradictory, or changing requirements. In the academic literature, wicked problems have later served as a critical model in the understanding of various challenges related to society, such as for example climate change mitigation. This aim of this paper is to analyze how the perspective of wicked problems can contribute to an enhanced understanding of improved energy efficiency. The paper draws examples from the manufacturing sector. Results indicate that standalone technology improvements as well as energy management and energy policy programs giving emphasis to standalone technology improvements may not represent a stronger form of a wicked problem as such. Rather, it seems to be the actual decision-making process involving values among the decision makers as well as the level of needed knowledge involved in decision-making that give rise to the “wickedness”. The analysis shows that wicked problems arise in socio-technical settings involving several components such as technology, systems, institutions, and people, which make post-normal science a needed approach. View Full-Text
Keywords: energy policy; energy management; wicked problem; energy management system; industry; energy efficiency energy policy; energy management; wicked problem; energy management system; industry; energy efficiency
MDPI and ACS Style

Thollander, P.; Palm, J.; Hedbrant, J. Energy Efficiency as a Wicked Problem. Sustainability 2019, 11, 1569.

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