Research Outline

Tackling climate change is widely regarded as modern society's pre-eminent challenge, and accelerating the deployment of renewable energy has support from government at all levels as a means of addressing it. However, if the UK government is to meet its own objectives, and increasingly ambitious EU targets for promoting renewable energy, then much depends on what happens not just in England, but in the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each holds a different portfolio of powers for influencing the delivery of renewable energy, and possesses major development opportunities across their territories.

The aim of the proposed study is to assess the impacts of devolution in the UK on the provision of renewable energy (particularly electricity generation). It will address the following questions:

  1. To what extent has devolution affected the provision of renewable energy, in terms of the ways in which the devolved administration have formulated policy objectives, adjusted the choice, nature and settings of policy instruments, and influenced the delivery of new renewable energy capacity?
  2. To what extent have the devolved institutions made different use of the powers and capacities for promoting renewable energy bequeathed to them by the devolution process, and how might we explain any tendencies towards divergence or convergence?
  3. What lessons can be drawn for institutional design in the effective delivery of renewable energy from the experiences of governments across the UK to date?

Thus the proposed research will harness the laboratory of devolution, to obtain a systematic understanding of the impacts of different policy designs and instruments on renewable energy outcomes - generating insights of great relevance to UK policy-makers, and internationally. Moreover, it will look beyond the choice of policy instruments to examine whether the new political mandates and democratic processes created by devolution are being harnessed to cultivate social acceptability for major transitions in energy provisioning.  The proposed research also offers considerable potential for addressing more fundamental questions of how modern societies and governments can promote more sustainable patterns of development. It offers scope to assess the relevance of regional-scale governance in promoting sustainability, as well as explaining and assessing the performance of markedly different approaches to land use planning for renewable energy adopted in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland since devolution. Another key feature of the proposal is to look beyond the basic 'megawatts installed' achieved by each government, to consider whether they are changing the efficiency, equity and degree of public engagement in the way that renewable energy is being provided.

The proposed research is a two year study, charting the effects of devolved institutions on policy and delivery of renewable energy from 1990 to 2012. It gives particular attention to how the devolved administrations set targets for renewable energy and justify expansion. Careful attention will also be given to financial support mechanisms (where there is limited and uneven scope between the devolved administrations to depart from the cross-UK institutions, and norms of market competitiveness) and planning (where there is a great deal more autonomy and, thereby, scope for variation). Due cognisance will be given to how action in the devolved administrations is coordinated with national (UK) and EU-level regimes of targets for renewable energy and greenhouse gas reductions. It will gather data from documentary sources; approximately 70 semi-structured interviews with government business and pressure groups; and data bases of renewable energy development, with segments of the research programme dedicated to gathering data from UK and EU levels, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.