The Making of an Energy Expert: Scottish Wind and the Entanglements of Ethics and Expertise

Annabel Pinker

Drawing on fieldwork on the material politics of wind energy in Scotland, this paper considers how ‘expert’ figures that have burgeoned around the field of renewable energy make themselves both as professional and moral persons. How do those variously positioned as wind energy ‘experts’ at different scales – including engineers, energy consultants, community engagement officers, local project managers pushing through community-owned turbines, planning officials, and self-trained micro-turbine innovators and technicians – constitute their everyday practices and aspirations both in relation to the materials and technologies associated with renewable energy, and to imaginaries of sustainability, crisis, and energy transition? I bring to bear field material based both on a ‘remote’ west-coast peninsula that has embarked on a bold 40-year long experiment with off-grid micro-wind turbines, and in an Aberdeenshire district where solitary locally-owned turbines jostle with large scale windfarms, lent added piquancy by the incipient crisis in Aberdeen’s subsea oil industry. The paper will explore, on the one hand, the competing, ambivalent and heterogeneous ways in which wind energy is narrated in relation to these multi-scalar, differentially framed, wind infrastructures, disrupting stories that cast renewable energy as a singular or unequivocally moral good (see also Howe and Boyer 2015). On the other, by focusing on the self-making techniques (as per Foucault’s ‘ethics of the self’ [1988]) deployed by those working on and around wind energy in variously specialised roles, I wish to point up in particular how and with what effects the ‘technical’ dimensions and logics of renewable energy expertise are complexly shot through with practices of ethical sense-making.