Regulating the diffusion of renewable energy technologies: Interactions between community energy and the feed-in tariff in the UK
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
An ever increasing body of legislation and regulation is transforming the UK’s energy system and its surrounding national energy framework. Depending on the mechanisms that result from this process, new forms of engagement with energy, particularly electricity, might emerge. The current trajectory of UK energy policy leans towards a centralised scenario with a portfolio of centralised renewable energy technologies (i.e. geographically concentrated such as offshore wind), nuclear power stations and gas fired power stations with the option of Carbon Capture and Storage technologies if it becomes a commercially viable option (CCC, 2011). Forecasts predict that a combination of these technologies could place the UK on the right path to reach its 2050 carbon reduction commitments (UKERC, 2008). However, this approach fails to take broader benefits of decentralisation and localisation into account and many official documents such as the Microgeneration Strategy (DECC, 2011a) and those surrounding Community Energy Online (DECC, 2011b) point to a need for greater public engagement in the generation of energy in order to ‘derive greater benefits locally’ (DECC, 2011a: 45). The question remains in how far these diverging objectives can be achieved within the current regulatory environment as there is a lack of coordinated incentives in place to facilitate the development of new scales and ownership structures capable of promoting new forms of engagement at scales below the point at which economies of scales apply. This thesis seeks to establish what barriers are preventing community energy with the capacity to increase acceptance of renewable energy technologies while also contributing towards climate change action, energy security and the strengthening of local economic cycles from becoming more widely embedded in the UK. The main focus is on how ‘niche creation’ policies such as the feed-in tariff might provide the basis for overcoming these barriers by diffusing new scales and ownership structures of renewable energy technologies. Accompanying social innovations could potentially include more meaningful engagement with energy in general and renewable energy in particular, while also enabling communities willing to invest in renewable energy technologies to build resilient local energy infrastructures with the capacity to reduce the impact of increasing energy insecurity, fossil-fuel depletion and climate change constraints. In order to appreciate the potential of community energy in the UK, parallels are drawn to the governance of national energy frameworks in other European countries, Germany and Denmark in particular, that have provided the basis for successful community energy engagement.
Funded by the Climate Change and Sustainable Futures Programme of the University of Exeter
PhD in Geography