Time to Start Warming to District Heating: Local Authority Champions of Change

  • Elizabeth Locke

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    District heating has historically lacked a consistent instutional base in the UK. However, a number of Local Authorities are acknowledging the potential of district heating as a vital enabling infrastructure for low carbon heat. Although the role of dedicated ‘champions’ has been widely acknowldged in studies of innovation, very little is known about the public sector champion of change. This thesis contributes to knowledge in this area by paying specific attention to the Local Authority champion of district heating.
    It is proposed that existing approaches to the study of champions tend to be action focused. The failure to appreciate the role of contingency and the interaction between structure and agency results in unbalanced championing accounts that either over, or under-play, crucial aspects of the championing endeavour. The aim of this thesis, therefore, is to address the interplay between action and structure through examining the ‘origins’ of champions of district heating.
    For this purpose a mixed methods approach is employed drawing on insights from sociotechnical theory as well as notions of human and social capital. The opportunity for championing is found to be strongly context dependent and driven in part by public sector obligations. However, in the absence of a specific district heating policy the scope for the technology as an ‘alternative’ solution lies in the creative interpretation of policy by innovative individuals. The results show that championing is the function of the interaction between the intentions and attributes of individuals (champions) and more complex contextual factors. A novel conceptual model is developed that reveals the critical features of the district heating champion, the public sector organisation and district heating as a large technical system (LTS). In light of renewed Government interest in district heating, recommendations are given on the ability of the Local Authority to ‘harness’ a champion of change.
    Date of AwardMar 2017
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAndrew Thomas (Supervisor)


    • Sociotechnical Studies
    • Community Heating
    • Large Technical Systems
    • System Builder
    • Change agent

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