Tackling the existing building stock as a real energy policy priority

By Mari Martiskainen and Florian Kern, Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand, SPRU

Those familiar with the UK’s energy efficiency policy for buildings are aware that back in 2006 the then Labour government announced that all new domestic buildings would need to be ‘zero carbon’ from 2016 to help meet the government’s energy and climate change ambitions. To support this goal, a Code for sustainable homes was announced at the same time against which new buildings would be rated. At the time of the announcement not many people actually knew what a zero carbon building would mean in practice. As a result, government and industry jointly set up a non-profit organisation called the Zero Carbon Hub  in 2008 to work together towards realising zero carbon buildings.

As Andrew Warren, Honorary President of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, writes in his “New hub needed to focus on existing buildings” article for the October issue of Energy in Buildings and Industry , the Zero Carbon Hub “has proved to be the acknowledged entity to which everyone turns – companies and Ministers alike – to consider how best to progress towards ensuring that only the most energy- and carbon-efficient new buildings are constructed”. Warren is now calling for a similar hub to be created to deal with the upgrade of the UK’s 26 million existing buildings, most of which will still be around for the next 40 years. Since the UK has one of the poorest housing stocks in Europe and despite a long history of policies aimed at tackling the energy efficiency of existing buildings, much remains to be done. We at the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand have been undertaking research analysing the mix of the UK’s policy instruments aimed at building energy efficiency in the past five years. Our initial analysis shows that there is a lot to be learnt from the failure of existing policies such as the Green Deal which addresses the current building stock but has seen a poor uptake. Ed Davey, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, announced an extra £100 million for the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund on 7th October 2014, but there is still a lack of a long-term strategic solution to improving the UK’s existing housing stock. In terms of new buildings, the zero carbon policy provides an actual regulatory requirement, whereas there is not a similar pressure towards upgrading the existing stock.

As many of our stakeholder interviewees have indicated, there seems to be a lack of coherence in terms of who is dealing with building energy efficiency within government. Having two different government departments, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), addressing different parts of building energy efficiency can create unnecessary confusions for those working in the sector. For example DCLG have to deliver under the EU Energy Performance and Buildings Directive, while DECC is responsible for the UK meeting its carbon budgets. Furthermore, there is a call for more joined up thinking in terms of realising the benefits that better integrated policies addressing energy efficiency and renewables could have – such as ensuring that Green Deal assessments are fully required and followed up with upgraded thermal efficiency before the Renewable Heat Incentive or Feed-in-Tariffs are applied for.

We agree with Warren that there is a need for a more coherent voice and centre of expertise to facilitate the upgrading of the UK’s existing building stock. As Warren notes “creating an acknowledged hub for existing buildings would provide a single point of reference for this long-established sector”. However, we argue that such a hub should not just be a joint collaboration between industry and government, but should also include other non-governmental organisations who have long called and campaigned for the upgrade of the existing housing stock. It should also have clear synergies with existing bodies like the Energy Saving Trust, the Carbon Trust and the UK Green Building Council. In addition, such a hub might be particularly effective if linked up with a major programme of the Green Investment Bank (like the ones by the KfW bank in Germany) as both Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey and Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint now agree that energy efficiency is part of our national infrastructure priorities. To make tackling the existing housing stock a political priority is the first step. The second step then should be to have a broad discussion on what sort of hub would be desirable to help facilitate this major infrastructure programme. Andrew Warren’s suggestion is a good starting point for this debate.

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­Davey: Energy Efficiency Key Agenda in Upcoming Elections

by Mari Martiskainen

“We need to see energy efficiency as part of the nation’s infrastructure programme”.

ACE_DaleyThis was the charge of Ed Davey,  Liberal MP and Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

Davey was speaking at an Association for the Conservation of Energy event to say thanks to outgoing director Andrew Warren, often referred to as the cheerleader of the UK’s energy efficiency industry. The event also served as a welcome for new director, Dr Joanne Wade.

The event was held at the House of Commons on September 2nd.

Similar words were heard last week from opposition leader Ed Miliband who announced that Labour would insulate 5 million homes in the next ten years. That is 500,000 homes a year- not an easy task, especially considering that the current government’s ‘flagship’ energy efficiency measure, the Green Deal, has failed to deliver.

The latest statistics released for the Green Deal in September 2014 show that since January 2013 when the programme was introduced, 326,884 Green Deal Assessments have been recorded. However, in August 2014, there were only 4,737 Green Deal Plans in progress, of which 2,092 had a ‘live’ status, i.e. all measures having been installed.

Davey asserted that the journey for maximising the uptake of energy efficiency measures “has not been a smooth one”, and admits that there is much to learn, especially from the Green Deal. He also called for a healthy debate from people who are passionate about the subject and welcomed comments and views especially on energy efficiency regulation.

Given that the UK has included energy efficiency in its energy policy since the 1970s, there has not been a lack of debate to date. As most in the sector would agree, energy efficiency is still the cheapest way to deal with energy related emissions and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

But what does having energy efficiency as the nation’s infrastructure programme actually mean or look like? There were no concrete answers from Davey, but more call for discussion and debate. Would it be similar to the 1990s Dash for Gas, so that street-by-street houses would be insulated to the best standards? And more importantly, who would pay for that, given that the government today is more interested in market based loan instruments, such as the Green Deal, while householders themselves are unlikely to want to pay, something that we have witnessed over the years.

Or perhaps, as Davey also suggested, it could mean having a debate about using council tax rebates for those who undertake energy efficiency measures. Miliband, on the other hand, indicated that Labour would give power to communities to insulate homes, while also providing 1 million interest-free loans for energy efficiency measures.

Davey underlined the need for a serious debate about the role of energy efficiency regulation, competition and innovation before the next general election in May 2015. It seems that the Liberal Democrats and Labour have already started that debate.

However, unless the lessons from the flop of the Green Deal are really taken into consideration and we get government at the highest level post-election advocating the importance of energy efficiency, there is a danger that energy efficiency will remain the invisible solution that everyone sort of knows about but no one is really prepared to fly the flag for.

Mari Martiskainen joined the Sussex Energy Group at SPRU in 2006. Her research has included topics such as community energy, consumer behaviour and debates surrounding new and old energy technologies, such as nuclear power and microgeneration. She is an affiliate PhD Researcher of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and currently works for the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand,

Follow us on Twitter: @martiskainen @SussexNRGGroup

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The Second Big Transition or the Struggle for Inclusive Capitalism

A blog by Johan Schot, following the fifth International Sustainability Transitions conference, Utrecht, August 29 2014

ButterflyIt was a great pleasure to present a keynote address at the fifth International Conference on Sustainability Transitions, for two reasons. First, some 15 years ago when John Grin, Jan Rotmans, myself, and many others were putting together the Dutch transition network and were developing a new research agenda, we discussed the need for the emergence of a new interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary field. It is a huge satisfaction to see that this happen, and the International Sustainability Transitions Network is flourishing. Second, as incoming Director of SPRU, one of the institutions that made important contributions to the field, I have a keen interest in bringing the research agenda to a new level.

SPRU is developing a new research programme provisionally entitled: Transformative Change and Innovation (and we are hiring three new professors to work on this). The ambition is that this programme will, on the one hand, deliver new fundamental knowledge on the nature and governance of long term transformative change, and on the other hand, practical ideas, perspectives and solutions for intervening in this long term change process. Transitions research always has been dedicated to do both and I believe rightly so since there is nothing as practical as deep and fundamental theoretical insights.

In my keynote address, I explored a number of important themes for the new agenda. The overarching message is that although transition studies as a field is built upon the notion that transitions are long term processes (with the basic understanding that they take at least fifty years, and encompass entire societies and economies), many studies focus on the short term and individual subsystems, such as mobility, energy, food provision systems. This is also true for the transition theory I am involved in developing: Multi-level Perspective (MLP).

There are sound theoretical and practical reasons for a focus on individual subsystems, yet it is also true that a sustainability transition ultimately does not need a change in one system, but a much broader change in many systems. I propose we refer to this change of multiple systems as a Big Transition.  A main question then becomes how can we characterize and conceptualize a Big Transition? Here we can learn from work of Freeman and Perez. Their work moves beyond the level of individual innovations or systems and takes a genuine long term historical perspective. Based on their work, I would like to propose the following hypotheses:

  • Changes in individual food, mobility, energy, water, healthcare and other regimes are not random They interconnect or cluster. This means that changes in one socio-technical regime tends to induce or require changes in other sociotechnical regimes.
  • This inducement is never automatic; it depends on the emergence of a carrier (or nexus). The carrier is a meta-regime or meta-rule set (Perez calls this the techno-economic paradigm) which is shared among several regimes and provide common orientation and direction. Examples of overlapping and partly conflicting meta-rule sets from the past are mechanization, flexible specialization, centralization, cooperation, mass production, mass consumption, public utility, specialisation, vertical integration, decentralization and standardization.
  • These meta-regimes or rule sets have the capacity to co-produce what is called in MLP new sociotechnical landscape trends such as individualisation, globalisation and urbanisation which then become gradients for action in many regimes.
  • The first Big Transition from Commercial to Industrial Capitalism went through four phases:
    – Inventing Mass-production and consumption, from 1750-1914
    – Contesting Mass-production and consumption, from 1914-1945
    – Heyday of Mass-production and consumption from 1945-1970
    – Flexible Specialisation from 1970 until today.

In this last phase we also enter the period in which the Second Big Transition begins, which entails a struggle between various forms of capitalism, from more brutal to more inclusive ones. If we were to drift towards the latter option, the Second Big Transition will be built around new rule sets and practices that are fundamentally different from the ones of the First Big Transition. This next transition is likely to be shaped by concepts and characteristics such as diversity, durability, recycling, circular economies, participation, and sharing.

Innovation is not only a crucial site for enabling the Second Big Transition, I expect that the innovation process itself will be transformed. In particular, the idea that innovation should be stimulated and its undesirable impacts on people, nature, and society should be regulated through the state will be questioned and rightly so.

We need new institutions that are able to give this Big Transition direction. The next question is how and which institutions do we need? This, and the entire theme of transformative change, will be an important agenda for SPRU over the next few years and will be the focus of the next conference of the International Sustainability Transitions Conference to be organized by SPRU next year. Come and join us!

This blogpost was originally posted on the SPRU – Science Policy Research Unit website on 29 August 2014

Twitter hash tag: #IST2014


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What can sustainability transition scholars learn from international political economy research?

In this blogpost written last month Dr Florian Kern opens up a conversation on the potential of scholarship on International Political Economy to enrich the study of sustainability transitions.

Word cloud, political, global, economyToday is the last day of the 5th international conference on Sustainability Transitions which is held in Utrecht, the Netherlands. During one of the last panel sessions of the conference I will present a new paper which reviews the existing literature on the politics of sustainability transitions and then argues that there is much to learn from the scholarship on international political economy (IPE). I suggest that it is important for transition scholars to explore connections with related areas of scholarship to avoid becoming too ‘insular’ and because such connections will foster new ideas, research questions and conceptual developments.

The starting point of the paper is that political aspects were under-conceptualised and under-researched in the early transitions literature. In these early days for example scholars focused on specific policies and their impact on technology development without discussing the politics surrounding policy choice, design and implementation. Transition processes towards sustainability were portrayed as relatively consensual and therefore unproblematic processes. However, over the last ten years a significant literature on the politics of sustainability transitions has emerged. Scholars have increasingly paid attention to the creation and contestation of various transition pathways, who decides which path(s) to follow, and have looked at the (domestic) politics of policy making in the context of transitions such as the politics of creating protective spaces for alternatives or the destabilisation of incumbent regimes. Such analyses have drawn on a variety of fields including institutional theory, policy studies and governance. Most empirical analysis are based on single national case studies.

I suggest that while the more recent literature has tried to engage with the political challenges of sustainability transitions, it has done so in a relatively ad hoc way and so far without taking much notice of contributions from the international political economy literature. I argue that insights from this literature can potentially contribute to a better understanding and conceptualisation of the politics of transitions towards more sustainable socio-technical systems.

International political economy is a wide field with many different schools within it. Generally, scholars differ in how they define their field of study but a common theme is that IPE “is about the mutually endogenous and every-changing nexus of interactions between economics and politics beyond the confines of a single state” (Cohen 2014: 138). Arguably the dominant school of thought within IPE is the American school. Cohen describes the American school as having a state-centric ontology: national governments are the core actors. This does not mean that other types of actors are completely ignored (such as individuals, enterprises, multilateral organisations or transnational communities) but they are mainly of interest insofar they influence or constrain government policy. Especially the realist and liberal approaches within the American school are mainly focussed on the nation state as the unit of analysis and how the international system impacts on national interests. Few transition studies look at the interaction between states and the global world system (and how the interactions/negotiations between states produce outcomes) which is an important omission. For scholars from the American school formal theory is important and research is often designed for hypothesis-testing using quantitative methodologies focussing on rigor and replicability of the results following the natural sciences model (Cohen 2014). These themes might also be explored more in a transition studies context.

Cohen describes the British IPE school as much more interdisciplinary and normative than the dominant American orthodoxy. He sees the British school as ‘more interpretive in tone and more institutional and historical in nature’ (Cohen 2014: 51) which seems to be a better fit with the majority of the transitions scholarship. The British school has been very much shaped by the work of Susan Strange and Robert Cox (Cohen 2014). Strange wanted IPE to be an open and inclusive multi-disciplinary field. Another hallmark of her vision of IPE was an intensive engagement with social issues in terms of distributional concerns and she advocated focussing much more on civil society actors rather than states. The work of Cox centres around the notion of ‘world order’ to be studied by interpretative historical analysis. For him the purpose of IPE is “to understand the structures that underlie the world” (Cohen 2014: 56). When Cohen describes Cox’ research agenda in these terms (“how systems came into being in the past, what changes are presently occurring within them, and how those changes might be shaped in the future”) (Cohen 2014: 57), this could be a verbatim statement of a transitions researcher. Also Cox rejected the exclusive focus on states which I think is instructive for transition researchers: instead state-society complex should be at the heart of the analysis as outcomes of transition processes really depend on the social forces shaping them rather than just the actions of states.

I conclude by suggesting a number of initial questions and themes for research on the international political economy of sustainability transitions. Inspired by the ‘American school’ of IPE,

  1. How do transition processes in different countries interact and how (much) are they shaped by the global governance system (incl. the global financial system; energy resource competition)?
  2. Who are important actors in shaping global transitions dynamics? (e.g. role of multi-national corporations, international organisations and transnational actor networks)
  3. What role can more quantitative analysis and hypothesis-testing research play in analysing sustainability transitions?

Inspired by the British school of IPE,

  1. What do we know about the distributional impacts of transitions within and across societies? ‘winner and losers’; how can these issues be managed?
  2. How are transitions influenced by and are influencing the international division of labour, trade relationships and global value chains?
  3. What role do civil society and social forces play in transition processes? Here research could build on Cox’ state-society complex.

The paper is really not intended as a final product but merely as a starting point for a conversation about the potential for IPE thinking to enrich the sustainability transitions literature. International issues are clearly at the heart of transition processes and there is much room to translate the questions and themes above into fascinating research designs beyond single national case studies.


Cohen, B. J. (2014). Advanced Introduction to International Political Economy. Cheltenham and Northampton, Edward Elgar.

This post was originally posted on the Science Policy Research Unit website on 29 August 2014

Twitter hash tag: #IST2014

Image Source: http://www.isanet.org/ISA/Sections/IPE

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Multi regime interactions between UK infrastructure sectors

Multi regime interactions between UK infrastructure sectors

Research Fellow, Dr. Ralitsa Hiteva, focuses in this blogpost on the importance of learning more about the interactions between several sectors at the heart of governing infrastructure independencies, and argues for better co-ordination between them.

This year’s International Conference on Sustainability Transitions (IST) in Utrecht is dedicated to impact and institutions. I, Dr Ralitsa Hiteva, am here to present a paper titled ‘Multi regime interactions between UK infrastructure sectors’.
Continue reading

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Technological Absenteeism and energy futures

In Europe, taking on climate change involves backing a good number. 20% emissions cuts After the crash - Cian O'Donovanby 2020. 20% efficiency savings. 20% of whatever you’re having yourself and if all goes well by next year it will be 40% by 2050. 100% of these numbers are set by the European Commission through a process of policy making. EU officials, individual government representatives, the Commission, powerful industry interest groups such as Eurelectric and NGOs like Greenpeace all chip-in. As with most policy processes, power plays a significant role; some interests are more important than others. At the end of the process, years often, a number is chosen, a base-line comparison year and almost certainly a target. 20%. For 2020. Continue reading

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What future for the technological innovation systems approach in analysing sustainability transition

solarIn this blog, Dr Florian Kern discusses the future of the Technological Innovation Systems approach, identifying three key challenges facing the framework.

Today the 5th annual gathering of the community studying sustainability transitions (organised in the Sustainability Transitions Research Network) starts in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Such conferences always present a good opportunity to step back from the day to day business of teaching, research and consultancy and to discuss the future directions of the field. One such reflection has been organised by Bernhard Truffer from EAWAG/Utrecht University in the form of a panel session. The panel will reflect on and discuss the following theme: ‘Prospects of the Technological Innovation Systems (TIS) Research: Riding a dead horse or the start of a new blossoming period?’. The panellists will include Frans Berkhout, Lars Coenen, Jochen Markard, Marko Hekkert and myself, with Berhard Truffer as chair. Continue reading

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