From “Perfect Green Dream” to “Total Failure”: The Rise and Fall of the District Energy Scheme

Matthewman, Steve and Byrd, Hugh (2020) From “Perfect Green Dream” to “Total Failure”: The Rise and Fall of the District Energy Scheme. New Zealand Sociology, 35 (1). pp. 177-202. ISSN 0112-921X

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The devastation of the city centre of Christchurch caused by the Canterbury earthquakes (2010 and 2011) provided an opportunity to “build back better” by renewing its infrastructure in a coordinated and efficient manner. This would allow for a city that is energy efficient, low carbon and resilient. This article focuses on the premier plan for the central city that promised to deliver all of these things: a District Energy Scheme (DES). Despite lofty ambitions, the scheme was abandoned in 2016, when it was declared “a total failure” (McDonald, 2016). The article has two aims: 1) to challenge the idea that it was the “perfect green dream” (Stuff, 2016) it was made out to be, and 2) to outline reasons why the DES failed. We use a Science and Technology Studies (STS) frame to illuminate the difficulties involved in aligning multiple actors working with different interests, funding regimes and timeframes. Further, the DES case shows the problems involved in transferring socio-technical regimes to new regions that are vulnerable to volatile fuel supply and seismic activity, where there is no established market for bio-fuel and no expertise in running such schemes. It is a story of what ensues when political will trumps economic reality, and of what eventuates when expert advice that counters political expectations is ignored. We conclude that the DES could more accurately be called a (misguided) “catalyst for development” (Moore, 2018) rather than a sustainable energy initiative in its own right.

Keywords:Christchurch New Zealand, Disaster, District Energy Scheme, Earthquakes, Infrastructure
Subjects:J Technologies > J910 Energy Technologies
L Social studies > L300 Sociology
K Architecture, Building and Planning > K440 Urban studies
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Architecture and the Built Environment
ID Code:41328
Deposited On:30 Jun 2020 09:15

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