Energy, Justice, and low-carbon transitions
: a governmentality analysis of the role of community energy in the UK.

  • Lee John Luke Towers

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis asks what role community renewable energy organisations (CREOs) can play in achieving a low-carbon energy transition in the UK. The UK government has consistently favoured supply-side action and large, centralised solutions such as offshore wind or nuclear power, as opposed demand side local action. Regulatory mechanisms were introduced, such as the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT), which allowed households and community renewable energy organisations (CREOs) to directly contribute to and benefit from initiatives aimed at decarbonisation of the energy system. However, many of these mechanisms have been terminated leaving households and communities locked-in to a high-carbon, high price energy system with a deficit of meaningful opportunity to engage with and create change. This situation results in multiple energy related injustices and is preventing a just transition.

Using a governmentality framework, this thesis examines how the conceptual frameworks of energy justice (EJ) and energy democracy (ED) can be supplemented by World-Ecology and decolonial perspectives. A qualitative, multi-case study research design was used to collect data via embedded participant observation in three community energy organisations and semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders (27). The data were analysed using a framework which directs attention to the relationships between four specific categories of governance: techniques of power; visibilities; rationalities; and subjectivities. From this perspective, historicised analysis was used to understand precisely how the history and present characteristics of the policy and regulatory environment for community energy promote and/or limit justice concerns.

This analysis finds a bifurcation in the practices of community energy organisations that creates an agonistic pull between community action and innovation. At the core of this agonism is a porous border between poverty and energy poverty, which in the practices of community energy organisations, are present as a convergence of dysfunction and extractivism in both energy and social support systems. In addition, community energy organisations were found to be working in a hostile environment, often including conflict with local authorities, over who remains the key deliverer of services and democracy under the financial and political retrenchments brought about by austerity. Finally, in a national energy context, this research finds that despite community energy being widely supported and advocated for, it is nonetheless forced to find alternative modes through which to sustain its work, due to a policy pull toward centralised energy infrastructure. The thesis concludes that these findings indicate injustice and democratic deficits at multiple junctures and scales and that these injustices and deficits are entangled with the materiality of energy, its scale and the continued influence of fossil fuel interests. It argues that facing the climate crisis will require focused efforts to further democratise both our energy systems and wider social and political systems. This thesis proposes that the prospect of furthering such democratic efforts can be critically assessed via two environmentally focused governmentalities, or environmentalities, developed over the course of this thesis, respectively referred to as: radical and reformist.
Date of AwardJun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorKepa Artaraz (Supervisor), Mary Darking (Supervisor) & Kirsten Jenkins (Supervisor)

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