The role of agents for change in the sustainable development of wave energy in the Highlands and Islands Region of Scotland

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by OU/Aberdeen)


With the Scottish Government’s commitment to sourcing 100% of the national electricity demand from renewable sources by 2020, the potential of the marine environment around the Highlands and Islands Region of Scotland to add to Scotland’s renewables portfolio has led to the expansion of the wave and tidal industries in recent years. Nevertheless, to date, there has been limited research conducted on the social systems around marine renewable energy development, excluding offshore wind. In answer to this deficit, this study explores the well-established concept of agents for change (AFCs), within the context of the rapidly emerging wave energy sector.
Two case studies, Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, and Orkney, were chosen based on their localities and the interest that they have garnered from wave energy developers due to their high energy marine environments. A grounded approach was taken to data collection and a social power analysis was conducted in order to find AFCs working within or closely with the wave energy industry that were not part of structured or hierarchical organisations. Emergent themes revealed the barriers that the AFCs faced, and the reasons behind their drive to establish wave energy in the case study sites.
The most noteworthy barrier to wave energy development at the case study sites and to the work that the agents for change were doing was in the form of a complex dynamic between financial investments in the sector, national grid, national energy policy, and the technology itself. Financial investment in the wave energy sector was found to be limited by the national grid infrastructure and the slow rate of technology advancement. In turn, technology developments and public investments in national grid infrastructure were restricted by the lack of private investment. These complexities were found to be exacerbated by the changeable nature of UK energy policy and the political climate around the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014.
The AFCs were found to act as catalysts for the wave energy industry through their skills, perseverance and visionary approach to facilitating wave energy development despite significant barriers. The motivations of the AFCs are explored by examining their core beliefs and values. These were found to relate to their psychological dispositions of self-efficacy, self-determination, and optimism as well as their relationship with place.
The role of the AFCs in the projects that they were working on transformed as the projects progressed – shifting from visionary leaders and facilitators to advisors. These steps are described and compared to organisational change process models, namely Lewin (1958) and Kotter (1995) showing that these models can be applied outside of organisational change management. The results of this study contribute to understanding how individual AFCs operating outside of the formality of hierarchical organisations can play a role in the development of novel, marine energy technologies.
Date of Award31 Jul 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
SponsorsESF PRA
SupervisorKenny Black (Supervisor), Lois Calder (Supervisor) & Frank Rennie (Supervisor)

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