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.
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