Title page for ETD etd-04202006-172936

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Sovacool, Benjamin K
Author's Email Address sovacool@vt.edu
URN etd-04202006-172936
Title The Power Production Paradox: Revealing the Socio-Technical Impediments to Distributed Generation Technologies
Degree PhD
Department Science and Technology Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Breslau, Daniel Committee Co-Chair
Hirsh, Richard F. Committee Co-Chair
Halfon, Saul E. Committee Member
Luke, Timothy W. Committee Member
Patzig, Eileen Crist Committee Member
  • Energy Policy
  • Renewable Energy
  • Distributed Generation
  • Technological Systems
  • Sociology of Technology
  • History of Technology
Date of Defense 2006-04-17
Availability unrestricted
Dramatic improvements in renewable energy and small-scale distributed generation (DG) technologies have been made in the last twenty years. Nevertheless, they remain underutilized in the American electric utility system. Despite the immense environmental, technical, and financial promise of renewable energy systems and DG technologies, such generators still constitute a very small percentage of electricity generation capacity in the United States. This relative neglect occurs despite remarkable gains in their technical performance and reductions in their cost of producing power—the result (in part) of dramatic government support for several decades. Moreover, the technologies often demonstrate great environmental benefits that appeal to policymakers and consumers. At the same time, they offer ways to enhance strained distribution and transmission networks.

This project attempts to answer the apparently paradoxical question: why do new energy technologies that offer such impressive benefits also find the least use? The dissertation emphasizes how the history and culture of the community of electricity producers and users helps explain why the new technologies have seen little use. Going beyond technical explanations of alleged low capacity factors and high capital costs, it focuses on the social nature of decision making among participants in the electric utility system. The approach not only helps us understand the glossing over of renewable energy and distributed generation technologies, but also suggests ways of overcoming the barriers faced by their advocates.

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