Radical shifts in energy governance in the past

It is instructive to recall that radical changes to the governance of energy have occurred in the past (see also Chapter 1). In many countries, a patchwork of local energy systems, created under municipal and private ownership during the early twentieth century, were consolidated and centralised through policy processes. In countries such as the UK and others, this process culminated in large nationalised energy industries after the Second World War. Up until the 1990s energy problems were confronted, understood, and addressed through the state bureaucratic machinery. Governments, faced with an energy policy problem, could, through their energy ministries, draw upon administrative lines of control over specialist policy departments, research labs and functionally distinct units in the nationalised industries. Governments in some cases enjoyed corporatist relations with unions. The state dominated investment and operation through oversight of its nationalised energy industries. The energy ministries' core task was, essentially, to predict future energy needs, and ensure that (mainly public) investments in energy resources and technologies kept pace with those anticipated needs.

In principle, policymakers had direct access to the energy system. In practice, the effectiveness and efficiency of these chains of command were open to considerable debate. Outwardly, UK energy policy institutions could appear monolithic, slow, and resistant to new issues, outside voices, or alternative approaches. This was especially apparent to alternative technology activists who campaigned unsuccessfully for renewable energy and energy efficiency responses to the fuel crises of the 1970s. Yet bureaucratic opacity merely hid many heated, often debilitating, internal debates and arguments over directions and priorities for the energy system. Internal realities were occasionally glimpsed through the procedures of parliamentary oversight. Yet, for good or ill, this negotiated hierarchy oversaw the development of much of the UK's current energy system.

The rise of market-driven ideologies and government from the late 1970s led to the restructuring, privatisation, and introduction of competition into the formerly state-owned gas and electricity industries and the creation of new arm's-length regulatory frameworks for the residual monopoly elements. Having created these new post-privatisation market arrangements and institutions, the UK went so far as to shut down its Department of Energy in 1992. Presumably the last civil servant remembered to turn off the lights! Energy policy remnants were merged into the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and a number of arms'-length regulators and watchdogs. The most powerful of these new bodies became Ofgem, which regulates gas and electricity markets, controls access to the relevant infrastructures, and sets the framework of incentives for system development.

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