Accepted Paper:

Controversy as external peer review in energy transition  


Eefje Cuppen (Leiden University)
Udo Pesch (Delft University of Technology)
Sanne Remmerswaal

Paper long abstract:

The energy system is full of contested technologies, policies and projects. One of the complexities for the energy transition is that although new energy technologies are generally evaluated positively on a socio-political level, their implementation goes together with quite some contestation and (local) opposition. Such local debates do not exist in isolation from wider socio-political debates on energy transition, where different stakeholders may all agree that a transition to a sustainable energy system is necessary and desirable, yet they have different expectations and visions as regards the technologies to play a role in the energy transition, how, and how fast the transitions should or can occur. Rather than viewing conflict and controversy as 'NIMBY' behaviour that is blocking or delaying innovation, we conceptualize controversies as a source of learning. Controversy reveal "socially valuable differences […]for the enrichment of all concerned" (Follet, 1924, p103) and thus provide "partly conflicting assessments of new technologies or of the impacts of actual or proposed projects, that are further articulated and consolidated in the course of a controversy" (Rip, 1986). As such, controversies are a form of extended peer-review (Funtowicz & Ravetz, 1993) of policy processes, or informal assessments of technology (Rip, 1986). Based on media-analysis and interviews, this paper analyses learning in the Dutch controversy on shale gas. It is argued that 'controversy as extended peer review' asks for a governance strategy that 1) fosters constructive conflict in controversy rather than its avoidance or resolution and 2) a heterogeneous and fluid conceptualization of 'publics'.

Panel L4
Energy controversies and technology conflicts