Research

 

You will find a complete range of our monographs, muti-authored and edited works including peer-reviewed, original scholarly research across the social sciences and aligned disciplines. We publish long and short form research and you can browse the complete Bristol University Press and Policy Press archive of over 1,500 titles.

Policy Press also publishes policy reviews and polemic work which aim to challenge policy and practice in certain fields. These books have a practitioner in mind and are practical, accessible in style, as well as being academically sound and referenced.
 

Books: Research

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The book closes by discussing lessons for policy and research from the dramatic Portuguese experience. The chapter revisits two talks on energy transitions governance at the United Nations, in New York and Geneva. It juxtaposes these grand settings with two stark memories from fieldwork: weeks spent in an eco-community in 2017, and a conversation with two of Portugal’s earliest household rooftop solar adopters in 2023. The former memory includes a solar-powered kitchen helping to cook for 50 people daily in a rural social innovation setting with little government support. The latter discussion features the claim from experienced interlocutors that the future of solar in Portugal is primarily large-scale. With community energy initiatives mired in bureaucracy, tariffs during peak production hours are being hollowed out, with only bigger players with energy flexibility able to benefit by trading. This contrasts with the gathering of European delegates pushing for an efficient, decentralized, clean energy system. Here lies the challenge: accepting the empirically plausible reading that large solar wins the day makes it even more likely. The chapter probes whether a middling path is the pragmatic compromise. As the sun rises in Portugal, will a just solar energy transition dawn?

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The chapter addresses the highly political nature of the energy sector by explaining the dilemma confronting the Portuguese government in 2017. The Socialist Party-led coalition that came into power in 2015 (and was re-elected in 2019 and 2022) faced a quandary despite its pro-renewable energy stance, that poorly designed wind energy contracts had given renewables a bad name and subsidizing solar energy was deemed politically infeasible. The chapter explains how institutional restructuring, political gumption and an ambitious vision of energy transitions led to Portugal setting two world records through its solar energy auctions in 2019 and 2020. It emphasizes the importance of considering solar installations at multiple spatial scales, to enable a more equitable distribution of benefits, burdens and ownership. This narrative culminates in the July 2023 announcement by the Portuguese government to achieve 20.4 gigawatts of solar installed capacity by 2030, nearly similar to its total installed capacity for electricity in 2021. This leads to the central question of the book: will the sun rise to such great heights in Portugal, and in doing so will it take people along in just ways? The challenge is contextualized through comparison to broader global solar energy development trends.

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This chapter lays out the aims and scope of the book. It explains how an empirical scientist can study contemporary trends to offer deep insights into a societal context. Like all the book chapters, it begins with a vignette. This one is drawn from a National Roadmap for Carbon Neutrality roadshow meeting in Faro, the capital of Portugal’s Algarve region. It conveys a sense of the challenge of researching a complex sociotechnical sector such as energy in Portugal, and explains fieldwork techniques applied over seven years. A personal note evokes human interest to offer an overview of multi-sited, multi-scalar fieldwork. This orientates non-academic readers, and offers grounding for claims to academic readers, embedded in important details that introduce all readers to the sociocultural context. The chapter provides an overview of the variety of stakeholders engaged with to understand the challenge of solar energy transition in Portugal. It explains the choices made to unpack issues of relevance to urgency, justice and scalar aspects of Portugal’s solar energy transition – what kind of spatial patterning is unfolding, and with what sociopolitical implications for energy justice?

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The chapter fleshes out details on the political economy of solar energy and Portugal’s energy transition more broadly while exiting the worst excesses of the economic recession. Austerity politics was giving way to neoliberalization through golden visa programmes and other efforts to attract foreign investment to an ailing economy and cash-strapped public sector. The chapter situates the challenge for a newly formed ministry in this predicament of growing solar energy to meet climate mitigation urgency, while walking the fiscal policy tightrope and public backlash risk linked with any subsidies to a politicized renewable energy sector. The chapter takes the reader to what was being built as the world’s then-largest solar plant in 2008, in the Alentejo plains of Moura where a mayor dreamt of local solar jobs and temporarily achieved some semblance of that dream. The chapter adds an appreciation of the sociocultural context where the Portuguese are famously risk-averse, evident in having gone slowly with solar energy transitions despite high rates of irradiation. It ends with a ride across the glorious bridge over the Tagus river into Lisbon, the solar city where many key decisions have been made for this energy transition. It underscores uncertainty before everything exploded.

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Portugal’s 2019 solar auctions went below a third of the average annual tariff on the Iberian peninsula’s wholesale electricity market. This chapter describes the intense dynamics among stakeholders. As costs continued to plummet and disrupt the electricity generation sector, Portugal set solar world records. Sober commentary from energy analysts followed, with scepticism over the feasibility of projects with such low profit margins, and fear that many delays and failed projects could burst the shiny bubble. Yet others rejoiced, as finally unsubsidized solar seemed to have come of age, with multinational corporations investing in Portugal’s ambitious venture. The ministry declared that cost-competitive solar energy would play a crucial role in alleviating energy poverty, a policy priority that emerged. This chapter captures the mixed feelings and charged emotions as the country began to enact its ambitious vision of decarbonizing electricity and electrifying many sectors to achieve a low-carbon transition among the most ambitious in Europe. By late 2019, the national elections had kept a Socialist Party-led coalition in power, and brought climate change onto the mainstream political agenda across parties. The stage was set for ambitious cross-sectoral policies to enter messy implementation.

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Extraordinary circumstances slowed down global supply chains and plant installation, but there was also some room for cheer, as the last of Portugal’s coal thermal plants went offline in Sines. This opened up massive transmission capacity on a high-voltage line for solar generation. The chapter reflects on the changing economic prospects for Portugal during this stressful period, while the recovery and resilience plan was being hashed out with the European Commission and uncertainty loomed large. With the advent of increased work-from-home, and later the energy crisis, energy poverty gained greater policy primacy, which shaped future solar energy debates. The chapter mainframes the valuation of the electricity distribution grid which throughout this period remained up for renewal of concessions. The digitalizing electric grid is a key asset for an electricity system increasing renewable energy in its mix, as storage services become critical for energy flexibility with more solar energy penetration on the grid. Yet little changed in municipalities exercising their right in this regard, as the incumbent electricity distribution system operator continued in this role. The chapter discusses the balance between slow and fast emergencies, and shows how the latter have dominated governance of Portuguese energy transitions.

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Like many collective self-consumption and renewable energy community projects, the Eurosolar4All pilot project in Almada has been slowed by bureaucracy, notably by the executive authority – Portugal’s Directorate General for Energy and Geology. The chapter presents visits to this site and its first rooftop solar installation, then draws upon insights from multiple community energy projects in Portugal, and emergent trends where multiple models have mushroomed up. This ranges from the country’s first solar cooperative Coopérnico to the community-led Viver Telheiras in Lisbon, and Smile Sintra and a kindergarten installation in Cascais west of the capital. The chapter discusses the emergence of companies such as Cleanwatts and Greenvolt, which deploy techno-economic models as intermediaries that can enable benefits for households while handling the technicalities for some revenue share. It unpacks interviews with energy advisors at ministries and the national regulator, to pose the troubling question of whether the legislative changes to enable community energy were more a public legitimation device than a sincere intent backed by reasonable will to implement. An industry association official argues that the finance ministry’s unwillingness to invest in human resource capacity-building has cost Portugal dearly by withholding the benefits of multi-scalar solar deployment.

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This chapter opens with a Positive Energy Districts conference with European delegates gathered in Carcavelos to discuss the cross-sectoral challenge of clean and efficient energy systems in the built environment. It reports a frenzied peak of recognition to this topic by 2023, yet beyond rooms of experts, also little engagement in a sector still perceived as distant, technical, and top-down by Portuguese residents. The chapter zooms in on a plantation of 1.5 million eucalyptus trees in Santiago do Cacem near Sines, the proposed site of Europe’s largest solar plant of 1.2 gigawatts to be built by 2025. Outside Lisbon in cork-studded landscapes, it reflects upon little public involvement in Portugal’s solar energy transition, little evidence of solar as unlocking energy democracy or creating a just energy system. Solar has taken over some rural landscapes, and the fenced aloofness of a 44-megawatt solar plant as a silent, mighty producer is striking. Realistically, this is Portugal’s solar energy future, a continuation of the spatial logic of fossil fuel sources, owned by large corporations and set remotely but without polluting the landscape as much at all. The chapter argues for joined-up thinking across rapidly changing sectors.

Open access
Ambitions of Just Solar Energy Transitions

Available open access digitally under CC-BY licence.

Portugal is among the best-placed European countries to take advantage of solar power, having achieved a five-fold increase in installed capacity during 2017–2023 despite financial constraints. In 2023, its National Energy and Climate Plan set an ambitious target for a further eight-fold increase from 2.5 GW to 20.4 GW by 2030.

How can such fast-paced deployment secure sociospatial justice? What insights do political economic dynamics hold for future transitions? Drawing on long-term, multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork, this book is a one-stop resource for policy makers, practitioners, scholars, and anyone interested in just solar energy transitions.

Siddharth Sareen won the 2024 Nils Klim Prize, recognising his exemplary work in the search for renewable and sustainable sources of energy.

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From the late 1990s onwards, ‘desistance’ – understanding how people move away from offending – has become a significant research focus and widely evident in central policy. Since 2014, desistance thinking has been transplanted to youth justice in England and Wales from the adult justice system. Yet, discussion or examination of the relevance of desistance thinking – a body of work primarily rooted in the experiences of adults – to children in the justice system remains scarce. However, children’s distinct needs, by virtue of their young age and ongoing neurodevelopment, together with their typically normative offending, raise important questions about the relevance and meaning of desistance thinking to their pathways away from crime. Coordinated by the National Association for Youth Justice, this collection brings together voices from academia, policy and practice to examine the topic of desistance with children from multiple vantage points and through a range of pertinent themes. Contributions include those that consider and critique the relevance of desistance to children from a theoretical and conceptual perspective (such as through the lens of Child First and temporality); examine the socio-structural dimensions of desistance (including gender, race and religion); and explore the application of desistance thinking with children (encompassing themes of implementation, participation, relational practice, arts-based interventions, sentencing and morality strengthening).

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