Low carbon energy futures

Speaker: Dr Ronan Bolton # University of Edinburgh

3rd Feb 2014

15:30 - 17:00

Conference Room, David Hume Tower


Historical studies of large scale socio-technical shifts indicate that enacting substantial infrastructure change requires a close alignment of markets, politics and investment decisions. Focusing on the UK electricity sector, this paper argues that there is a new dissonance between markets, politics and investment which is creating structural uncertainty about key aspects of the prospective low carbon energy transition. The origins of this uncertainty lies in a form of market politics in the UK. The UK pioneered the liberalised model of energy governance where investment decisions were based on price signals mediated through the liberalised energy markets, with the role of government being confined to an indirect regulatory oversight function. Informed by insights from neo-classical micro-economic theory, the purpose of liberalised energy markets was to induce efficiencies across the industry by reflecting in tariffs the marginal costs of generating and delivering electricity to customers. This alignment of markets, politics and investment is now seen by many as inadequate to deliver the level of low carbon investment required over a relatively short time period to replace an ageing fleet of generators and to meet the UK’s legally binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 80% by 2050. An alternative alignment is proposed where government takes a more active role in shaping energy markets by fundamentally realigning the balance of investment risk between customers, taxpayers and private investors. It is argued that a form hybrid governance is emerging where key market principles are retained as part of a nascent low carbon investment logic.


Speaker Biography

Ronan Bolton joined STIS as a lecturer in 2013. His research examines the policy and regulatory challenges of transforming high carbon energy systems and enabling the deployment and diffusion of low carbon technologies and practices. Drawing from science and technology studies, innovation studies, and governance perspectives, his work has examined the changing relationships between regulators, government, energy companies, users and local authorities in the governance of energy systems at both the national and urban scales in the UK.