Solar Energy, Technology Policy, and Institutional Values

Solar Energy, Technology Policy, and Institutional Values

Solar Energy, Technology Policy, and Institutional Values

Solar Energy, Technology Policy, and Institutional Values


Energy policies influence the shape of emergent technological systems, and also condition our social, political, and economic lives. This book demonstrates the difficulties of deliberating such properties by providing a historical case study that analyzes U.S. renewable energy policy from the end of World War II through the energy crisis of the 1970s. It illuminates the ways beliefs and values come to dominate official problem frames and get entrenched in institutions.


Why do governments take seriously some policies and not others? Indeed, what does it mean to say that a government takes a policy “seriously”? What distinguishes fringe policies from their mainstream counterparts, and how can policies move from one to the other? This study addresses these questions through an analysis of U. S. renewable energy policy. The result is a longitudinal case study of energy policy change that explains what has been taken seriously and what has not, and why.

As other authors have noted, although we discuss energy systems in the language of BTUs and barrels of oil, they are so pervasive and important that arguments about them are, in many instances, arguments about the kind of society that people desire. This concept helps us to understand how much was at stake in energy policy decisions between the end of World War II and the postoil embargo period in the United States — the period that this study examines. This feature of energy policy makes it a prime example of what I call policies for the future. In the coming decades public policy, among other influences, will shape emerging technological systems. Those systems will, in turn, condition and constrain important political and social decisions. That fact makes it imperative that we better understand and deliberate over such policies.

Recent studies of politics and policy have emphasized the importance of ideas in shaping the political world, and this work builds on that literature. Ideas interact in complex ways with interests and institutions, all three shaping each other in the process. Ideas also form the basis for the problem frame through which policy makers view policy problems and solutions. Energy policies are powerfully affected by such ideas.

This book is primarily for those who are concerned with energy and environmental policy in particular and broader questions of public policy . . .

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