A mix of politics and sharing: the case of Barcelona’s regulation on solar thermal collectors

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In 2000, the municipality of Barcelona decided to give a U-turn to its energy policy by adopting a regulation requiring the installation of solar thermal collectors on new buildings. Once the regulation had been passed by the city’s administrators, this could have in fact been imposed on the public without any further delay. Instead, the municipality decided to act differently by beginning a long but important and fruitful process of consultation with major stakeholders. The purpose I have set myself with this paper is two-fold. On the one hand I recount to at least a fairly large number of people what I and others consider a best practice to promote an awareness of valid and successful experiences which in some way lead us, our society, and the government to believe and invest in renewable sources. On the other hand, I also wish to give my modest contribution to Italian sociological reflection on energy problems. The story of all the activities and initiatives which, in Barcelona, accompanied the adoption of the municipal regulation making the installation of solar collectors mandatory is, in my opinion, particularly important at the present time in the Italian context, where the recent Romani Decree contemplates putting into effect a similar regulation throughout the country. In actual fact, such a regulation had already been contemplated in legislative decree 192/2005, but from what I have been told, this was as usual disregarded. What is more, the story of what happened in Barcelona could be important because I believe it represents the right balance between “command and control” policies, which sometimes the public authorities are forced to adopt, and stakeholder sharing policies, which often prove to be inadequate by themselves. I am therefore substantially presenting this contribution as the answer to a question I have often asked myself during the course of my studies: what is the “most socially acceptable” way of introducing into the social system rules that somehow involve costs (including economic costs) for a number of the parties involved? In this respect, I would like to stress that I am not moving in the field of voluntary instruments but in that of mandatory ones – in other words, I am not wondering how to induce a change of behaviour in the population or, to use a metaphor, how to convince people to “take the pill”. Rather, I am asking myself how to sweeten the pill. From the point of view of the sociological interpretation of what we shall see, as a basis for reflection, I shall adopt the contribution of Giorgio Osti (2010) entitled “Energia e Società: Alcuni Elementi di Base” (“Energy and Society: Some Basic Elements”), recently published in Quaderni di Teoria Sociale. In a very schematic and effective way, Osti identifies four “theoretical lines of thought that could shed light on the new relationship between energy and society”, with the aim of “providing a number of theoretical guidelines on the topic” (Osti 2010: 106). With this paper, I have therefore tried to answer Osti’s appeal and focused on a specific aspect of the energy-society relationship (i.e., between energy policies and their social acceptability). I have had fun interpreting the case in question according to the four different theoretical lines of thought, and I have thus discovered that these are not only far from being alternative to one another, but are in fact complementary and therefore (albeit to a different extent) somehow all useful for a better understanding of what occurred in Barcelona. This paper is split up into three parts. The first is dedicated to the description of the case, the second discusses its possible sociological interpretations, and the third contains a number of final considerations.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteEnergy and Society. Public opinion, policies and sustainable development
EditorMaretti Mara Agustoni Alfredo
Numero di pagine14
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2015


  • solar thermal collectors
  • sustainability

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