Examining Offshore Wind Institutional Entrepreneurship (ExOE)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Business and Management

Abstract

To mitigate the social and environmental impacts of climate change, global CO2 emissions must be drastically and urgently curtailed. While various future pathways to a decarbonised society are possible, analysis by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes it clear that limiting global temperature increases to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels requires major structural changes in the supply of energy. Renewable energy production will have to be expanded dramatically if it is to provide the majority of global electricity production by the middle of the century.
Offshore wind turbines, the largest rotating machines ever built, have the potential to provide very large volumes of clean electricity. It is cautiously estimated that the realisable United States offshore wind resource is more than twice the current national electricity demand. In some island nations such as the UK, the resource is even more abundant. Exploiting the stronger winds found offshore will involve the creation of substantial new industries involving hundreds of thousands of workers. Often out of sight, offshore wind turbines are also less likely to provoke resistance from neighbouring communities than onshore developments. Consequently, expansion of offshore wind farms is an explicit environmental, industrial and energy policy objective in many maritime countries.
But organisational and institutional factors are proving to be serious barriers to policy implementation, slowing, delaying, or preventing expansion in some, but not all, countries. Previous analysis of the UK, a leader in offshore wind, suggests that key to enabling an offshore wind industry that can deliver the desired energy is the active coordination between disparate domains by an 'interested broker' or 'system builder'. These actors strive to create new institutional forms or 'ways of doing things' - activity sometimes referred to as 'institutional entrepreneurship'.
Working with carefully selected project partners, who collectively offer £38k of in-kind support, this project will study the creation of offshore wind industries and the role played by institutional entrepreneurship in enabling or constraining their growth. Empirical field-work will be carried out in three major offshore wind markets: the UK, a somewhat unexpected leader given the conflictual nature of renewable energy politics in that country; Denmark, a pioneer in offshore wind with a strong coordinative role in the energy sector for the State; and the United States where a lack of coordination between actors has contributed to stifled growth to-date.
The research will add to academic understanding of organisations and public policy, specifically how motivated actors are able to shape their environment through coordinative institutional entrepreneurship. Such understanding will have value to scholars researching energy systems in the context of large-scale change towards sustainability.
The knowledge created in the course of the project will also be useful to policymakers seeking more effective offshore wind policies that overcome some of the organisational and institutional challenges currently slowing deployment or driving up costs, benefiting consumers and the environment. It will also provide businesses, civil society groups and others with a clearer understanding of how offshore wind industries emerge, and their potential role in shaping them.
The skills development programme will provide training in all aspects of research management including finance, project planning and execution, networking and impact. The project is also designed to develop the applicant's quantitative research skills through externally provided training, drawing on the capacity of Exeter's Q-Step quantitative data-analysis programme as well as the ESRC-funded National Centre for Research Methods. To aid the building of international collaboration networks, a one month invited visiting researcher post has also been planned.

Planned Impact

This project will have impact on productivity and climate change, both of which are ESRC strategic priorities. The research questions result from several years working with public officials and industry professionals in the offshore wind sector including national governments, public agencies, regional development bodies and private companies. Their relevance is validated through recent scoping conversations with stakeholders in the US, Denmark and the UK, leading to contributions of in-kind project support from three partner organisations. The knowledge produced in the course of this research will be highly relevant for enhancing the practice of a wide range of actors and will have a variety of impacts pursued through co-creation, engagement, and dissemination activities.

The impact activities are designed with the needs of several groups in mind:

- A better understanding of coordination challenges will mean that offshore wind industries can grow in line with political priorities. The findings will propose ways to foster more dynamic, entrepreneurial public bodies. The greatest impact will be in the case countries where stakeholders will be engaged through co-creative workshops. However there will be broader applicability in established and nascent offshore wind markets. Local industries that, for example, fabricate steel support structures or supply marine logistics to the offshore wind sector will benefit both from enhanced growth and a clearer understanding of how they can shape that growth. Local Enterprise Partnerships in regions such as Cornwall and the North East of England have identified the growth potential of offshore renewable energy technologies in their strategic thinking, and will benefit from summarised findings such as a policy brief. There is also relevance beyond offshore wind. Policymakers and other actors seeking to understand and enable the development of other types of large infrastructure projects and industries can be targeted with appropriate publication.

- Policymaker engagement is a core part of the project. In the US, this may include federal or state legislators, federal bureaus such as that of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) or state-level agencies. In Denmark, this will include officials working in the Danish Energy Agency, while in the UK, The Crown Estate, Whitehall departments, agencies such as the Marine Management Organisation or devolved governments will be able to act of the findings in their practice. At the European level, politicians and officials in the EU institutions play a vital role in coordinating national energy policies, and will benefit from this research in their practice.

- Offshore wind supply chain actors are seeking clarity on what can be done to create a sustainable industry. International technology companies such as Vestas or Siemens and large developers and energy utilities such as Orsted and Vattenfall will benefit, but the findings will have the greatest impact further along the supply chain. Local and regional players that provide services such as structural fabrication, installation, and marine logistics are key to offshore wind growth. SMEs, perhaps looking to transition from the oil and gas industry, may use the findings to approach offshore wind strategically and to better understand the role they can play.

- Industrial and environmental advocacy groups depend on high-quality, non-partisan analysis to inform the debates in which they engage and the research outcomes can directly inform those interactions, leading to improved policy engagement. Offshore wind energy advocacy groups representing all elements of the supply chain are actively working with policymakers in countries with offshore wind potential, and at the EU level. As an environmental technology, NGOs developing advocacy strategies to improve environmental governance will benefit from understanding how the constraints to offshore wind deployment can be overcome.

Publications

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