The political shaping of energy technology
: combined heat and power in Britain

  • Stewart Russell

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    There has been negligible adoption of combined heat and power (CHP) for district heating (DH) in Britain, despite continued advocacy. This thesis constructs an account of the treatment of the option, and devises a framework for explanation. Analysis of technological development and adoption, it is argued, should be similar to that of other social processes, and be subject to the same requirements and criticisms. They will, however, show features peculiar to the institutions developing and selecting technologies, their relation to different social groups, and the forms of knowledge in and about technology. Conventional approaches - organisation and interorganisation theories, and analyses of policy-making - give useful insights but have common limitations. Elements of an analytical framework situating detailed issues and outcomes in a structured historical context are derived from convergent radical critiques. Thus activity on CHP/DH is essentially shaped by the development and relations of energy sector institutions: central and local government, nationalised industries and particularly the electricity industry. Analysis of them is related to the specific character of the British state. A few CHP and DH installations were tried before 1940. During postwar reconstruction, extensive plans for several cities were abandoned or curtailed. In the 1960s and 70s, many small non-CHP DH schemes were installed on housing estates. From the mid-70s, the national potential of CHP/DH has been reappraised, with widespread support and favourable evaluations, but little practical progress. Significant CHP/DH adoption is shown to have been systematically excluded ultimately by the structure of energy provision; centralised production interests dominate and co-ordination is weak. Marginal economics and political commitment have allowed limited development in exceptional circumstances. Periods of upheaval provided greater opportunity and incentive for CHP/DH but restructuring eventually obstructed it. Explanation of these outcomes is shown to require analysis at several levels, from broad context to detailed action.
    Date of Award1986
    Original languageEnglish


    • political shaping
    • energy technology
    • combined heat and power
    • Britain

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