An analysis of the sociotechnical transition process from the existing centralised alternating current voltage electrical system in the UK to one where distributed direct current voltage is used to meet the energy needs of the built environment

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Kinn, MC

This study concerns the potential sociotechnical transition of the current UK centralised alternating current (AC) electricity system to one where distributed direct current (DC) systems may proliferate. The development of the new distributed DC system has the potential to address a number of global challenges including the UN’s 17 Sustainability Challenges, particularly in terms of city and disaster resilience, energy security and energy independence. With the development of renewables and small-scale storage, among other technologies, this transition becomes a technical possibility. As transitions theory identifies energy systems as sociotechnical, transitions are a complex and people-centred process, an issue that has been identified that creates barriers to technical transitions. The multi-level perspective (MLP) is used as the theoretical framework and its applicability for future transitions is considered.\ud The research proposes a “bottom-up” approach, focused on the demand side within the built \ud environment, to avoid the transition developing into a wicked problem. Using a mixture of primary interview data, analysed using thematic analysis, supported by data, from published academic and industry/governmental literature, a multi-method case study approach is used to develop a transitions model between the “as is” state and the potential future state with DC systems. Also identified were the institutions within the social and technical networks of the electricity regime, barriers and enablers to the transition, boundary points between the networks and the structurations of institutions within these networks. \ud Key findings are a lack of interdisciplinary thinking among different academic disciplines, a lack of DC standards and home appliances, and that DC is in focus for the office rather than the home. Knowledge dissemination especially via education, government procurement and energy policy, and the importance of independence from the market are key components for a successful proliferation. A conundrum connecting renewable generation, the carbon debate and energy policy, is identified. With a deeper understanding of the regime, landscape and with a multi-systems approach, a tentative solution is provided.\ud Contributions to knowledge are: the transitions model; the sociotechnical characterisation of the electricity system; a better understanding of how liability, living standards, disaster risk reduction and city resilience can be impacted by failure chains associated with power cuts; and a deeper understanding of the MLP model.
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    1.2. The research question, aims and objectives .................................................................... 1 2.2. The characteristics of electricity systems ...................................................................... 15 A possible solution to The Conundrum................................................................255 7.5. Contributions to knowledge.........................................................................................257 7.6. Some limitations to this research.................................................................................260 Figure 3.1 The four conceptual frameworks central to sustainability transition studies (Markard et al., 2012). ...........................................................................................58 Figure 3.2 The multiple levels as a nested hierarchy the MLP (Geels, 2002, Fig 3). ..............61 Figure 3.3 The multi-actor networks involved in a sociotechnical regime (Geels, 2002 Fig.

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