Resource interdependencies between energy actors

Actors must continually coordinate in order to achieve an objective, given the social distribution of relevant problem solving and political resources. We saw earlier how central government policy actors seeking the deployment of more renewable energy depend upon the technological and financial resources of others. This requires human resources in the form of a skilled workforce (whose training is led by others still), organisational resources in the form of clear and straightforward planning procedures (administered by local councils), and the legitimate authority (the political resources that come through a popular mandate) to bring all these elements together through policy reforms. Clearly, there are many resource interdependent actors involved in renewable energy governance.

Each actor will wish to retain sufficient autonomy to influence the outcomes favourably for them. Not everyone approaches sustainable energy policy from the same starting position; neither do they see this world nor more sustainable ones in the same way. Obviously, different actor framings will perceive the policy 'object' and its boundaries differently. The primary concern for the UK Sector Skills Council involved in training plumbers, for example, is the skills set required for qualification into the trade, rather than a specific piece of technological hardware like solar water heating. Energy technology developers, such as marine power ventures or farmers' associations interested in diversifying into biomass, will each have their core competencies and marketing goals. They will argue for the inclusion of their technology in the prospective support systems sought by policy initiatives. Economic regulators, such as Ofgem in the UK, will consider sustainability policy through their particular economic regulatory frameworks and assess and recommend changes accordingly.

Sustainable energy governance consequently has to be sufficiently flexible that it can convince everyone from venture capitalists to low-income households to conceive their interests differently and deploy their resources towards the new sustainability goal. Some will be convinced more readily than others, and will change their behaviour with greater enthusiasm and to a larger degree. Others will not buy into the new vision, and might need to be brought into line more forcefully, for example through regulation and punitive enforcement. Sustainable energy governance will have to undertake conflict resolution activity, as well as reaching consensus where possible.

Existing material interdependencies shape this challenge. Wilks and Wright (1987, pp. 4-5) have noted in industrial policy that 'each player's room for decisional manoeuvre on an issue is constrained by the material and intellectual resources available to him, appropriate to that issue and which he is prepared to use, and by those possessed by other players, who may perceive their own interests differently'. Possessing key resources helps one wield influence in governance, but only to the extent that other (differently) resourced actors are persuaded or compelled to continue their engagement accordingly, and to the extent to which one is dependent upon the resources of others. The basis upon which resources are exchanged (be they financial, economic, technological, authoritative, legal, informational, organisational, legitimising, or other) requires building trust and the negotiation of informal and formal rules of the game among participants.

Yet because resource interdependencies need not be symmetrical, indeed often they are not, the basis for negotiating rules of exchange, or forming common views and strategies, does not take place among equals; some resourceful actors are more powerful than others. The energy utilities that own energy assets, like power stations, distribution infrastructures and research capacity, hold obvious important resources for new energy technology deployment. Their technological capabilities make them an important partner for government initiatives such as energy R&D programmes, and utilities consequently have considerable influence over ensuing research agendas and strategies. Any transition to a new, sustainable energy system will have to negotiate with these businesses, not least because it will be important to maintain levels of energy service even while the basis of their provision is altered radically. Similarly, those with the constitutional authority to regulate the system hold important negotiating positions and consequently have an important role in rethinking regulation for a sustainability transition.

In other words, amidst all this complexity there are still regular relations and outcomes that are explainable through power, which derives from commanding important resources. Resourceful actors exercise influence over the shaping of policy agendas, thereby defining what a 'reasonable' position is in debates framed in this way. Given the need to start from existing governance arrangements, these interdependencies inevitably privilege incumbent actors. They enjoy an important gate-keeping position for any attempts to radically alter aspects of the energy system, such as fiscal rules, market structures, infrastructure access and development, skills provision, and technology choice.

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