Making useful knowledge for heat decarbonisation: Lessons from local energy planning in the United Kingdom

Richard Cowell, Janette Webb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Heat decarbonisation is challenging in many countries, but few studies address its ‘wicked problem’ qualities and the implications for producing useful knowledge. This paper elucidates the challenges by applying insights from science and technology studies, especially Callon’s concept of knowledge ‘frames’, to explain the fate of a prominent UK innovation – the EnergyPath Networks (EPN) and Local Area Energy Planning (LAEP) tool of the Smart Systems and Heat programme. The aim of the tool, which coupled an engineering model with local planning, was to provide authoritative knowledge to support local decision making. However, after six years of piloting with local authorities the future take-up of EPN and LAEP remained uncertain, for two key reasons. First the techno-economic knowledge frame encountered numerous overflows emanating from more potent political-economic and technological perspectives governing local priorities. Second the framing of local decision making neglected the marginality of energy planning at local government level. Our analysis shows the problems that arise when lab-based research and development prematurely frame energy system problems, before encountering societal and political contexts of use. Problem definitions and solutions for heat decarbonisation based predominantly on technical–economic knowledge lack requisite authority to progress this wicked problem, and must become more context-responsive.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102010
JournalEnergy Research & Social Science
Early online date25 Mar 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Mar 2021


  • heat decarbonisation
  • wicked problems
  • knowledge frames
  • framing and overflowing
  • energy
  • local energy planning


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