Building multi-system nexuses in low-carbon transitions: Conflicts and asymmetric adjustments in Norwegian ferry electrification

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2023 Nov 21;120(47):e2207746120. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2207746120. Epub 2023 Nov 13.


While nexus research in sustainability science has investigated the consequences of connected systems, it has paid less attention to the processes of building nexuses which is becoming increasingly important in low-carbon transitions because these often require the creation of new connections between multiple consumption-production systems. Building on multi-system research in the sustainability transitions literature, this paper introduces a conceptual system interface perspective on nexus-building which considers four dimensions (technology, actors, institutions, and resources) that are useful for analyzing nexus-building dynamics. We apply our framework to the case of electrification of ferries in Norway which requires the building of a new interface between the electricity system and the maritime transport system. The case study shows that the system interface was initially characterized by conflicts and tensions in all dimensions, which actors then attempted to resolve through cross-system intermediation and adjustment activities. These activities were asymmetrical because of differences in external pressures, urgency, unequal power relationships, and different degrees of interest in cross-system nexus building. Because important tensions remained unresolved, ferry actors started implementing sub-optimal workaround solutions in the diffusion phase.

Keywords: Nexus building; electrification; low-carbon transition; maritime transport; multi-system interaction.