Community energy and equity: The distributional implications of a transition to a decentralised electricity system

Victoria Charlotte Anna Johnson, Stephen Hall

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Abstract

This paper explores the equity implications of a transition to a decentralised energy system in the UK. We base our analysis on one of three idealised transition pathways developed by the EPSRC-funded Realising Transition Pathways (RTP) project. Each pathway is characterised by a different mix of technologies, ownership and governance of the energy transition, and stretches from 2010 to 2050. In this paper we focus on the ‘Thousand Flowers’ (TF) pathway, which stipulates a much greater role for civil society in the energy system. Here, civil society actors are instrumental in delivering 50 per cent of final electricity demand from decentralised, low-carbon sources by 2050. Such a radical and systemic transition will require both institutional as well as technological change. The systemic institutional transformation necessary to support wide-spread adoption of community/decentralised energy schemes and the potential distributional impacts have, however, received limited attention to date. To address this gap, we draw on collected outputs of the RTP consortium and extant literatures on community and decentralised energy to explore potential institutional barriers and distributional impacts of the TF pathway. We argue a transition to a TF future would require significant institutional changes to UK energy governance, new municipal and community business models, and new financial and organisational structures in energy ownership. Second, widespread adoption of distributed energy sources would undermine the viability of traditional large power plants; leading to the need for new forms of state support to maintain assets at transmission level. Finally, we contend that expanded community energy provision has the potential to reproduce, or even exacerbate, existing socio-economic and spatial inequalities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-167
Number of pages18
JournalPeople, Place and Policy Online
Volume8
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 19 Dec 2014

Keywords

  • decentralised
  • energy
  • governance
  • pathways
  • community
  • equity

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