Mention ‘power’ to any professional working in the energy policy sphere and they immediately think you are referring to electricity. Mention power to any social science academic and they are immediately thinking of lots of very complicated themes and ideas. The subject of this blog is the second kind of power, not electricity but social power.
So what does social power entail? Well interestingly research into power has been taking place for many decades and the ideas of power are embedded across the social science spectrum. When people initially started talking about power they spoke about the power of people to make other people do certain things for example vote in particular ways. As time went on understandings became more complex and the theory considered the managing out of issues from agendas and then to being considered as a capacity of certain actors (people and organisations) to be able to do things.
The theory becomes increasingly conceptual with the advent of post-modernity and moves towards implicit power such as existing taken for granted practices and behaviours, meanings, norms and practices and then even hidden power we can never understand…………..
Despite the complex theory, power is a real life issue. Some people are powerful just as some organisations are powerful. Some people have more power than others and this power may only be over certain specific actors. Similarly some ideas (also things like paradigms, institutions) are incredibly powerful. Take the example of neo-liberalism and its spread through the UK and US political economy. This idea has spread like wild-fire despite that fact that no one actually knows whether it is good idea yet politicians seem to think that competitions and markets are the solution to everything. Social power theory is an incredibly important part of any sort of policy/political science study. Politics is power and policy is the result of politics.
So in my thinking on power and how it relates to the UK’s heat system, three main areas of power have emerged which I am interested in. Firstly, how do the existing people, businesses and organisations have power and how does this maintain business as usual. This is almost thinking about incumbancy. I think that this could be a good research question particularly when thinking about how new technologies and industries may need to break into the existing system and how they may need to fight.
I’m also really interested in how ideas around wider approaches to making policy may affect the ability of a transition to happen. The neo-liberalism I mentioned earlier on is very much an important issue for energy and clearly the UK Government is becoming more and more interventionist. But what I’m interested in is whether the power in ideas means that the Government will be restrained in its approach to heat and gas policy if it sticks to neo-liberalism and leaving it to the market or whether it takes a more central planning approach.
Finally I’m interested in the power of the niche heat industries such as heat pumps, district heating and biomass boilers. I want to know what power they have and whether it is enough to fight through to become dominant in the heat system. If not I’m interested in how we give them more power.
So that’s power in a nutshell and I hope it all makes sense and you think my questions are worth wile!
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