Social Enterprise and Renewable Energy: Issues of Sustainability and Self-Sufficiency
Objectives Whilst much has been written about the role of the 'bottom up' approach to renewable energy, there is still no clear insight into why only some schemes work. The objective of this paper is to illustrate how adopting a social constructivist approach gives more insight into the factors that lead to successful small scale renewable energy adoption. In particular, social enterprises are playing an increasing role in delivering the objectives of Europe 2020 (sustainability and self-sufficiency). This paper discusses these current trends with regards to community renewable energy projects. Prior Work There is a considerable body of literature on community renewable energy projects (Fudge et al., 2011; Walker et al., 2010, 2006; Warren and McFadyen, 2010). At a practical level, the importance of adopting the correct organisational structures has been highlighted (Gubbins, 2010; DETI, 2011). However, in the literature there has been little discussion of this issue. This could be because most of the academic literature is framed within the technological determinist paradigm and has its origins in subjects other than business. Approach The paper presents and discusses the findings of a large number of case studies that explore these issues, undertaken as part of the European Regional Development Fund's transnational Northern Periphery Programme's projects in renewable energy. Results and Implications The case studies identified that the main barriers were socio-economic rather than technical. The main finding is that nearly all successful community renewable energy initiatives had formed themselves into social enterprises. This was because they were better placed to address the key barriers identified. Uncovering this finding was possible through the adoption of a social constructivist approach which allowed the socio-economic issues to be carefully considered. The implication is that further work needs to be undertaken by adopting this paradigm. Value The main value of this paper is that it illustrates how adopting a social constructivist paradigm and using management theory helps to explain the complex issues surrounding the 'bottom up' approach to sustainability and self-sufficiency. In particular, the approach provides an ideal way of studying the functioning of social enterprises.
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