Path-dependent UK bioenergy

Levidow, Les; Papaioannou, Theo and Borda-Rodriguez, Alexander (2013). Path-dependent UK bioenergy. Science as Culture, 22(2) pp. 213–221.




The rise of renewable energy has generated tensions over its means and ends. Civil society groups have been promoting decentralisation of energy production, greater community control over resources and equitable access. Renewable energy has been seen as a special opportunity due its spatially distributed sources, for example, wind, sun, biomass, etc. In response to such proposals, energy decentralisation has been linked with renewable energy sources by some governments and local authorities, especially in Scandinavia. A similar vision also has appeared in many UK policy documents on decarbonisation over the past decade. Together these policies aim to enhance community involvement and GHG savings through renewable energy, including bioenergy. Focusing on the UK government’s innovation priorities, this paper addresses the following questions: How do UK policy incentives shape future bioenergy? How do priorities link innovation, infrastructures and knowledge? Here we argue that UK support measures generally promote bioenergy innovation as input-substitutes to supply centralised infrastructures for current consumption patterns. These priorities arise partly from the UK state’s relatively weak capacity to implement energy innovation, which remains dependent on large private-sector companies. Dominant pathways involve several epistemic assumptions, for example, that cost-effective GHG reductions correspond to inherent efficiencies of large-scale systems; that national economic benefits correspond to large companies selling novel technology or licensing patents abroad; and that mere input-substitution or fossil fuels is politically more reliable.

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