In the context of challenging targets for renewable energy generation, this paper draws out social implications of moves towards low carbon energy systems. As renewable energy develops as a heterogeneous category, many potential forms of social relation between ‘publics’ and technologies are emerging. Utilising perspectives from science and technology studies, we outline five modes in which renewable energy has been implemented in the UK and how these involve different configurations of technology and social organisation. We argue that a multiplicity of roles for ‘the public’ are implicated across this increasingly complex landscape, cutting across established categories and raising questions of meaning, differentiation, interrelation and access. Policy assumptions and conceptions are questioned, highlighting that dominant characterisations of public roles have been part of a concentration on particular socio-technical pathways to the exclusion of others.