Political Power and the Development of UK Domestic Heat Policy

Mr Richard  Lowes, University of Exeter Energy Policy Group, United Kingdom

Heat is around half of the UK’s total energy demand and its generation is responsible for a third of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the scale and importance of UK heat, it has received limited attention from researchers and policy makers and the growth in sustainable heating has been limited compared to the growth of sustainable electricity (Connor et al., 2015). This needs to change as most energy system models show that non-industrial heating will need to be almost completely decarbonised if the UK’s 2050 climate goal is to be met. This implies a complete transformation away from fossil fuels for heat with major disruption of the existing heating regime required and innovation in low-carbon forms of heat.

The social and technological aspects of the UK heat regime are complex and interconnected and include culture, practices, institutions, physical infrastructure and industry. This system therefore has its own inertia and interests which means that disruption and innovation will be challenged and contested (Stirling, 2014). The existing heat regime actors, primarily companies but also associated organisations may have the political and social power to affect the policy, regulation and therefore the development of sustainable heating. At the same time, new players in the sustainable heating market may be using their own political and social power to influence and affect policy in a way that supports the growth of sustainable heat.

Focussing on the development of sustainable heat generation policy in the UK and by using the Netherlands as a comparator case study, this research has investigated the impact of domestic (in the home) heating regime actors on UK heat policy. Data from over 50 in depth interviews with actors from across the heat policy network has been collected and analysed in order to build a picture of the relative social and political power of particular organisations and sectors and to investigate real policy impacts.

The results suggest that individuals and organisations have successfully influenced various aspects of the UK’s heating policy as it has developed. However, the success of different actors has varied significantly and actors have in some cases also failed to affect policy. Three major themes have emerged from the research around lobbying and influence, 1) the role and use of evidence and regulatory capture, 2) the use of ideas and the framing of messaging, 3) perceptions of the organisation attempting to influence based on its scale and style.

This research has major relevance for those involved in sustainable heat particularly from a policy and regulatory perspective as it shows how and where actors have been able to influence policy and can inform policymakers how to be aware of the (both negative and positive) power of heat market players.

This research is also of relevance to those interested in the academic field of sustainability transitions as this is a field in which it is often recognised that a lack of understanding of social and political power has limited the applicability of transitions theory (e.g. (Smith et al., 2005, Shove and Walker, 2010).

This research will be built upon, extending it beyond domestic heat to industrial heat and in particular increasing our focus on the role of incumbent actors and their impact and interest in UK heat policy and regulation.

Heat, power, transformation, lobbying, influence, framing

Connor, al (2015) The development of renewable heating policy in the United Kingdom.Renewable Energy

Shove, E., Walker, G.(2010)Governing transitions in the sustainability of everyday life.Research Policy.

Smith, A. et al.(2005)The governance of sustainable socio-technical transitions.Research Policy.

Stirling, A.(2014)Transforming power: Social science and the politics of energy choices. Energy Research and Social Science.


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