This workshop set out to examine existing and proposed models of public ownership of energy systems.
As a group of about 40 academics and practitioners we considered ownership of energy across different scales and contexts in the UK and Europe. We debated the arguments for and against different ownership structures for energy networks, power generation, gas supply, energy retailing and energy services.
The roles of public and private sectors in European economies are once more becoming the focus of political debate, not least in the UK. Energy systems, and envisaged transitions to clean energy, are fundamental to economy and society, and there are questions about whether ownership is materially consequential to development of a low carbon energy system and its efficient operation.
In the UK surveys of public opinion find majority support for public ownership in the energy sector, and the UK Labour party, Scottish National Party (and Scottish Government), and Plaid Cymru have all proposed different forms of publicly owned energy companies (POECs).
In other European countries liberalisation and privatisation have followed different dynamics, with, for example, a wave of ‘remunicipalisations’ in Germany and continued public ownership of major district heating schemes in Denmark.
The kinds of questions and issues we debated were:
- Does public or private ownership make a significant difference to the economic performance, low carbon innovation capacities, reliability and public accountability of energy businesses?
- Do public authorities have the resources and capacity to set up (or purchase) and successfully manage energy companies?
- Can there be fixed answers to any of these questions, or do answers vary according to historical period, place, scale and institutions of political economy?
- If so, how do evolving markets, technical systems and policy objectives affect the cases for and against different ownership models now and in the foreseeable future?
- Are experiences and evidence from different European countries transferable?
International Workshop on Publicly Owned Energy Companies