‘Back to the drawing board!’ Can failed technological innovations for sustainability play a role in socio-technical transitions? The case of Combined Heat and Power and District Heating in Edinburgh.
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This dissertation regards Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and District Heating (DH) technology (CHP-DH) as a technological innovation for sustainability which is currently under-utilized in the UK as DH meets less than 2% of heat demand (Delta Energy and Environment 2007; Poyry 2009). CHP-DH is an important technology for sustainability as it generates environmental, economic and societal benefits, and therefore it is valuable to encourage investment in CHP-DH to increase the role it plays in heat generation in the UK. Greater utilization of CHP-DH technology could help to stimulate a socio-technical transition—a reformulation of the relationship between society and technology—in this case, a shift in the way homes, businesses and public buildings are heated. Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, has some CHP-DH schemes in place in a few areas of social housing and in three University of Edinburgh sites, with a fourth university project currently under construction (CHPA 2012). These existing schemes, although valuable to the buildings and people they serve and important to environmental sustainability, are very small in scale when considered in relation to the sophisticated and ambitious plans for city-wide CHP-DH in Edinburgh planned and discussed in the 1980s and 1990s, but not implemented. This dissertation focuses upon the proposal for a central Edinburgh CHP-DH scheme drawing large public heat users together into a heat network, which was actively discussed from 1992-1997 and is considered to be a failure: a plan that was never implemented. The role of failed projects upon socio-technical transitions is considered, which has been little studied previously but is important to examine, hence this dissertation begins to fill a gap in the academic literature and provides scope for more research on failures. Through archival research, an online survey and interviews with two key individuals in CHP-DH in Edinburgh, a finding of this dissertation is that knowledge is gained and things are learned from failed projects and so failures can have an informing role upon subsequent projects. In Edinburgh, it is likely that CHP-DH will soon play a greater role in the city’s and Scotland’s energy future following the publication of the Scottish Government’s (2014a) heat consultation document, and consequently, more than twenty years after the failure of the 1990s city-wide CHP-DH development plans drawing large heat users together, these plans, or ones very similar, could be implemented shortly.