Governance of public involvement in the energy system transition
: Insights from Ireland and Scotland

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Abstract

The energy system transition requires a radical transformation of the whole energy system. These changes reach out to the everyday lives of individuals making them key stakeholders in the transition. The way the public is involved in the energy transition is evolving towards encompassing the scope of the challenge but is hindered by many implementation challenges.

As many of the measures to decarbonise the energy system reach out to the everyday lives of individuals and across society, it is not feasible to attempt to achieve them with only top-down measures. Bottom-up action is not enough in itself either, as the more active role of the public in the energy transition has been hindered by insufficient resources and a lack of policy support. Instead, a facilitative approach is needed. As the energy transition is not possible without the involvement of the public, questions over who participates (or does not, or cannot) and who benefits from the transition are not just moral considerations but also questions over the effectiveness of the transition.

The main aim of this research is to evaluate emerging governance arrangements that facilitate public involvement in the energy transition. It examines key discourses in two case study countries (Scotland and Ireland) and analyses these using a governmentality approach. This facilitates the use of concepts such as problematisation, technologies and rationalities, which are used to investigate how varying stakeholders in Ireland and Scotland discuss the role of the public in the energy system. To analyse the connections between varying perspectives, another analytical tool, interplay, is introduced.

The data for this research consists of interviews with key stakeholders, policy documents, policy consultation submissions, public event recordings, and reports by key stakeholders. Analysing how public involvement in its many forms is problematised, what strategies are adopted, and what moral elaborations guide this gives insights into how the public is governed and what challenges and opportunities are connected to this, which poses one of the most crucial challenges for the energy transition.

This has resulted in several contributions. First, the research contributes to the understanding of involvement, the Whole-of-Society approach, and governmentality. The second category of contributions relates to methodology, and the use of novel methods during a pandemic. Lastly, the research highlights that there have been main themes under which the measures to aim to involve the public in the transition can be categorised; awareness raising, inspiring, and empowerment. The analysis of the different stakeholder perspectives in relation to these strategies highlights conflicts between how the public is imagined and the adopted practices, indicating a need to reconsider the prevalent rationalities connected to the involvement of the public in the energy transition.
Date of AwardDec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsEC/Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions
SupervisorGeraint Ellis (Supervisor), Brendan Murtagh (Supervisor) & David Rudolph (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • Governance
  • governmentality
  • Whole-of-Society Approach
  • energy transition
  • public participation

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