Fuelling expectations: a policy-promise lock-in of UK biofuel policy

Berti, Pietro and Levidow, Les (2014). Fuelling expectations: a policy-promise lock-in of UK biofuel policy. Energy Policy, 66 pp. 135–143.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2013.09.044

URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S...


Controversy over EU-wide biofuel policy resonated within the UK, fuelling policy disagreements among UK public authorities. They disagreed over how to protect a space for future second-generation biofuels, which were expected to overcome harm from first-generation biofuels. The UK government defended rising targets for available biofuels as a necessary stimulus for industry to help fulfil the UK’s EU obligations and eventually develop second-generation biofuels. By contrast, Parliamentary Select Committees opposed biofuel targets on grounds that these would instead lock-in first-generation biofuels, thus delaying or pre-empting second-generation biofuels. Those disagreements can be explained by different institutional responsibilities and reputational stakes towards ‘promise-requirement cycles’, whereby techno-optimistic promises generate future requirements for the actors involved. The UK government’s stance illustrates a ‘policy-promise lock-in’, a dilemma whereby promised support is a requirement for credibility towards technology innovators and thus technoscientific development – but may delay the redirection of support from incumbent to preferable emerging technologies. Thus the sociology of expectations – previously applied to technological expectations from technology innovators – can be extended to analyse public authorities.

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