Distributing power, a transition to a civic energy future: Report of the Realising Transition Pathways Research Consortium ‘Engine Room’

The overarching challenge for UK energy policy is to ensure the delivery of secure, affordable energy in a way that meets the emission reductions targets laid out in the Climate Change Act (2008). The EPSRCfunded Transition Pathways (TP) and, more recently, Realising Transition Pathways (RTP) projects have both argued that multiple logics of governance, ownership, and control of the electricity system can be followed to address the energy trilemma. This work has developed three transition pathways for the UK energy system, each driven by different governance patterns. Each pathway has a specific technological mix, institutional architecture, and societal drivers. These pathways are: Central Co-ordination: Central to this pathway is the role of the nation state in actively delivering the transition. Market Rules: After the creation of a broad policy framework, the state allows competition and private companies to deliver sustainable, affordable energy. Thousand Flowers: This pathway is characterised by a greatly expanded role for civil society in delivering distributed low-carbon generation. The following report focuses on the Thousand Flowers pathway. There is growing interest, from a range of stakeholders, in the potential of distributed low-carbon electricity generation in delivering a low-carbon energy system. Yet there are still significant gaps in understanding, particularly regarding the feasibility of scaling up distributed generation from technological, governance, regulation, policy, and financial perspectives. The aim of this report is to address these gaps within the context of the Thousand Flowers pathway. This research was carried out by the ‘Engine Room’ of the EPSRC-funded Realising Transition Pathways (RTP) consortium. The ‘Engine Room’ was established to facilitate interdisciplinary work across the consortium and consists of research fellows and doctoral researchers from different fields in the nine partner institutions. Engine Room workshops and meetings give researchers the space to present their work and develop and exchange ideas with their peers. This report is an output of a series of interdisciplinary Engine Room workshops held throughout 2013/14 which also drew on contributions from energy industry stakeholders. These workshops brought together the current research and cumulative findings of the Realising Transition Pathways consortium, to examine the consequences of a transition from a centralised energy system to one where distributed generation plays a much greater role (50% of final electricity demand), and is delivered by a civic energy sector. In this report we do not present any panaceas, attempt to preference a civil response to energy transition, or claim technological infallibility. We do, however, explore the potential of a distributed energy future and investigate the technological trajectory it could follow, along with an institutional architecture compatible with its development. We acknowledge throughout that this is a challenging but realistic system transition.