Centralisation, decentralisation and the scales in between

Watson, Jim and Devine-Wright, Patrick (2011) Centralisation, decentralisation and the scales in between. In: Pollitt, M and Jamasb, T (eds.) The Future of Electricity Demand: Customers, Citizens and Loads. Cambridge University Press, pp. 542-577.

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Introduction: The scale of future energy systems in the UK will have a significant impact on the evolution of the built environment. Yet, the scale at which energy systems emerge is closely connected with social and economic values and behaviours and the nature of governance at local and national levels. Today’s centralized energy system has a particular relationship with the built environment through the way people understand and use energy services. Electricity is centrally generated in remote power plants; the majority of heating systems are fuelled by gas which is centrally distributed; and petrol for vehicles is refined and distributed through a few large depots. Electricity generation within the built environment is rare, while district heating networks are virtually absent. A key issue for decision makers is whether the strongly centralized approach to energy provision that developed in the post-war period can continue to meet the needs of the economy and society over the coming decades. The current pattern of mainly large-scale power plants and centralized delivery infrastructures for electricity, gas and oil may be sufficiently flexible to meet the dual challenges of energy security and climate change, but this is by no means certain.Meeting these challenges could require a significant shift so that energy systems are located at a range of scales. Indeed, some government strategies such as those to increase the role of renewables imply that such a shift needs to start soon. This chapter explores the scope for deploying energy systems that are both centralized and decentralized. Since there is considerable confusion over the meaning of the term ‘decentralized’, the chapter first sets out some definitions and explores the range of scales that this term encompasses. The chapter then considers some of the critical drivers for future energy systems and what they might mean for system scale. The chapter also focuses in some detail on the relationship between citizen engagement and the provision of energy services at different scales.

Item Type: Book Section
Schools and Departments: School of Business, Management and Economics > SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit
Depositing User: Jim Watson
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 19:37
Last Modified: 03 Apr 2012 08:11
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/21524
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