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Appears in Collections:Biological and Environmental Sciences eTheses
Title: Renewable Energy Decentralisation in Nepal, India and the United Kingdom
Author(s): Boyd Williams, Natalie Alice
Supervisor(s): Dickie, Jennifer
Keywords: Renewable energy transitions
Decentralised renewable energy
Domestic biogas
Socio-technical energy transitions
Energy justice
Energy literacy
Geography of transitions
Socio-cultural norms
Liberalised energy markets
Household biogas
Issue Date: 1-Aug-2023
Publisher: University of Stirling
Citation: Boyd Williams, N., Quilliam, R. S., Campbell, B., Ghatani, R., et al. (2022) ‘Taboos, toilets and biogas: Socio-technical pathways to acceptance of a sustainable household technology’, Energy Research and Social Science., p. 102448. doi: 10.1016/j.erss.2021.102448.
Abstract: The decentralised nature of many renewable energy (RE) technologies opens up opportunities for greater citizen involvement in energy governance. It also allows for fairer profit sharing in energy transitions compared to fossil fuels. However, a RE transition is hindered by the firmly established fossil fuel structures, centralised governance, and regulatory processes within existing energy systems. RE transitions necessitate a significant reconfiguration of existing systems. Moreover, being geographical processes influenced by place, space, and scale, they exhibit unique and context-dependent characteristics. To successfully foster decentralised RE transitions, it is crucial to better comprehend the impact of spatial and scalar variations on these transitions. This thesis aims to explore how decentralised RE transitions emerge in different contexts and to better understand why they sometimes fail or do not realise their full potential. Additionally, it seeks to understand how to foster equitable decentralised RE transitions and the social changes required to ensure their success. The two case studies in this thesis, one focusing on transitions to domestic biogas in Nepal and India, and another on RE transitions in the United Kingdom, allow us to examine diverse, and context specific RE transitions. The central focus of the thesis is to investigate the varied success of long-term domestic biogas programmes in rural Nepal and India, aiming to understand differences in outcomes within seemingly comparable contexts. Domestic biogas digesters convert organic household wastes, mainly animal dung, into a gaseous cooking fuel and a plant fertiliser. In addition, the integration of a household toilet to form a toilet-linked anaerobic digester (TLAD) can improve a household’s sanitation facilities. Domestic biogas is considered a rural sustainability solution, particularly in low and middle-income contexts. However, the practical implementation of domestic biogas has achieved limited success. Despite awareness of the recurring challenges in implementing domestic biogas, failures are common. The reasons why biogas, and particularly TLADs, succeeds in one place but not another, even within similar contexts or under the same programme, remains unclear. Socio-cultural resistance is often broadly used to explain local opposition to TLADs and explain their recurrent implementation failures. However, current research inadequately explores what socio-cultural resistance is and why it is sometimes renegotiated upon TLAD adoption. The first objective aims to improve understanding of local socio-cultural resistance towards TLADs and to evaluate its influence on TLAD adoption. Despite similar socio-cultural barriers opposing human excreta as a biogas feedstock in both regions, Nepal has seen much higher acceptance of TLADs. In-depth semi-structured interviews conducted with TLAD users in Nepal's Province 4 and non-adopters in Assam, India, reveal that socio-cultural resistance is multidimensional and related to an individual's place, personal and social identity. Resistance to TLADs results from both socio-cultural as well as socio-technical concerns and is also sometimes negotiable. Adoption of TLADs is contingent upon an individual's perceptions of the benefits TLADs would offer them. Adoption can be facilitated through technology demonstrations and group adoption so they become a social norm. Identifying and targeting households with suitable needs and motivations is crucial for TLADs adoption. Without perceived necessity, individuals are less likely to overcome socio-cultural resistance. The findings also imply that socio-cultural resistance of potential users may also signal broader programmatic failures in implementation. The second objective therefore focuses on identifying the reasons behind the success or failure of domestic biogas programmes in Nepal and India, particularly related to TLAD implementation. This objective also aims to comprehend the multi-scalar and spatial factors influencing programme success more broadly. In-depth semi-structured interviews with biogas expert stakeholders along with a comprehensive literature review suggest that local socio-cultural resistance as well as other commonly cited high-level challenges, such as technical failures and competition from alternative solutions, are in fact symptoms of higher-up systematic issues previously overlooked. These include poor management of the biogas programme, unfitting governance structures and poorly crafted multi-sector policies. The secondary focus of this thesis was to explore the UK's shift towards RE for electricity generation. Despite historical public support for a RE transition, the recent gas price-induced energy crisis has resulted in increased government and public backing for domestic natural gas. The study examines the public's understanding of the gas price's impact on electricity cost, and its effect on their opinion on the UK’s energy transition and their voting behaviour. An online survey of 999 UK respondents suggests the majority of the general public may possess moderate to weak energy literacy, with equal support for increased use of RE and domestic gas for electricity generation. Higher energy literacy was linked with stronger RE support, indicating that enhancing literacy could spur broader public support for an RE transition. The energy crisis may have also increased public acceptance of RE technologies in the UK landscape, with locally-owned energy also perceived as a potential solution creating potential opportunity for decentralised RE. However, despite acknowledging the importance of energy policies, many respondents felt they lacked adequate knowledge to inform their votes or prioritised other policies when voting. Thus, increased public energy literacy and political engagement are critical for facilitating the transition towards a more sustainable, decentralised energy landscape in the UK. Each chapter of this thesis provides valuable insights into transitions towards decentralised RE in specific geographical contexts. Collectively, the thesis chapters highlight broader, globalised challenges facing successful transitions to decentralised RE. The thesis finds that the global energy regime's techno-centric and centralised approach to energy governance is a major barrier to decentralised RE transitions in Nepal, India and the UK. Such an approach results in policies that overlook cultural and regional diversities and needs, constrain democratic participation, and treat energy transitions as mere technological solutions, thereby marginalising societal aspects and often misinterpreting them as barriers rather than inherent aspects of an energy transition. The thesis emphasises the need when researching energy transitions to integrate public decision-making within the broader multi-scalar and multi-sector context of a transition to avoid misattributing transition failures to public groups and overlooking more systematic barriers. The research findings underscore the necessity of regulatory frameworks that better support decentralised RE transitions and can adapt to localised contexts. Without such improvements, decentralised RE transitions will only succeed sporadically, only where central and standardised policies happen to fit local contexts. These insights highlight the importance of improving global energy governance to better support decentralised RE solutions. Without a more supportive dominant energy regime for decentralised RE transitions, overall progress will be limited.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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