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Title: The role of the city-scale in energy transitions : heat networks in England and Germany
Author: Britton, J.
ISNI:       0000 0004 8498 1255
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2019
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This research explores the role of cities in energy transitions using heat networks as a case study. Drawing on both discursive institutional and socio-technical transitions literature the interaction of discourses, ideas and institutions are analysed in relation to heat networks in England and Germany. Heat networks are framed within this research as embedded within wider debates regarding scales of governance, scale of energy provision and the role of various forms of state, with the co-production of discourses and institutions reflecting the struggle between these competing ideas. The thesis highlights the complex interactions between national and local scales in mediating material change to energy systems. At the local scale, in both countries, there was a growing narrative of the need for local governments to adopt more direct forms of governance in order to secure wider public good benefits of energy infrastructure. In developing heat networks all locations were adopting multiple roles but there was increased focus on ensuring modes of governing. These findings provide an empirical demonstration of the multiple modes of governing adopted by local governments, and suggests that previous assertions that England and Germany are converging on an 'enabling' model of climate change governance may no longer be the case. Much discursive institutional literature presents ideas as influencing policy outcomes only when fully formed (Carstensen and Schmidt, 2016; Gillard, 2016), however this research suggests that the contestation of deeply held views can be constituted through not a single large-scale crisis but the amalgamation of several emerging challenges to existing ideas. A loss of confidence in the private sector to deliver the best outcomes, a financially constrained public sector, growing familiarity with sustainable energy projects in many local authorities and increasing recognition of the potential for heat networks to support whole system approaches to decarbonisation all led to ideas about the role of local government in the energy system to be challenged. This provides insight into how ideas can be influential, potentially at different scales, without necessarily being dominant nationally, or used consistently across local actor networks. At the same time obdurate existing storylines, such as the need to de-risk commercial finance, can act to marginalise other storylines. This highlights the complex interaction between dominant and emerging storylines with ideational bricolage at the local level leading to a reappraisal of the role of local government in energy system change. This was, to a degree, providing a route to resist embedded national norms and providing a platform for a stronger local governance role to be debated in relation to decarbonisation and energy system change. Applying a discursive institutional approach is also demonstrated to add richness to explorations of regime politics within socio-technical change, particularly in relation to investigating processes of change at different scales. Socio-technical regimes are often characterised as stable with relatively short periods of change initiated by niche experimentation. Incorporating a discursive approach provides for a more diffuse and gradual explanation for change, enabling exploration of how individual experiments link to long-term debates at both the local and national scale.
Supervisor: Woodman, B. ; Sweeting, D. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: energy transitions ; urban governance ; discursive institutionalism ; socio-technical change ; local government ; heat networks