New approaches are needed to meet the challenges facing current and future energy systems. This paper explored this and how these challenges and solutions are critically social as well as technological. Crucial to this is conceptualising and developing these challenges and solutions in ways that account for how they are situated, operationalised and impact in everyday life, and the key actors and interdisciplinary dimensions and processes involved in this. This contention is enhanced by introducing three key frameworks and, for the former, redefining it. These are ‘community energy’, ‘socio-technical’ and ‘social practices’. A complimentary account of all these is distilled in this paper to provide theoretical and practical guidance to actors in the energy and sustainability sectors for improving the success of related research, projects, policies and technologies. These contributions are enhanced further by showcasing significant real-world examples of why such approaches are needed, together with an empirical model integrating many of these insights and developments. The examples discussed are smart meters, energy communities, smart systems and the pioneering Project SCENe. This is an integrative approach that combines innovations for energy generation, energy research, storage, monitoring and interfacing, social and socio-technical interactions and demand-side management. The co-evolution of these shows the importance of partnership and dynamic energy approaches to embrace key actors, developments and the value of consumers and communities in research and development processes. The implications of this are significant and manifold and will be analysed and presented further in subsequent papers. This paper unpicks some of these. This includes that energy developments must work in harmony with the complexities of the systems within which they operate, that these are variously and co-dependently ‘social’ and ‘technical’, and theoretical and practical aids for this and optimising and reforming their energy and sustainability related interdependencies. These contributions are especially important with the changing energy era towards smarter grids, flexibility, and more sustainable, interdisciplinary, equitable and decentralised systems and services. Such changes are needed beyond the energy sector. The insights in this paper are thus pertinent for people, institutions and transitions beyond the energy sector. A socio-technical approach that considers the key social practices and diverse elements and partners implicit in their making and remaking is shown as both theoretically and practical invaluable for supporting this.