Social acceptance and the translation of energy targets to local renewable energy developments

Celine Bout*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesis

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This thesis focuses on the means of assessing the social acceptance of renewable energy (RE) technologies and seeks to establish how such assessment can be used to support the energy transition. Our current energy landscape is marked by a growing amount of distributed renewable power-producing sites, whose nature and numbers vary across countries and regions. Onshore wind energy in particular has seen a fast development in different European countries, thanks to a levelised-cost that is one of the lowest among renewable technologies. Yet, while this development is in line with EU and UN renewable energy-based strategy plans, the physicality of the turbines and the changes they have induced in landscapes have in some places been met with reactions of wariness and opposition. As a consequence, naming a lack of community acceptance as their main motive, the governments of Denmark and the UK have recently decided that a curb in the number of turbines is required.

In this over-arching context, the research field on social acceptance of technologies has mapped acceptance under three main dimensions: community, market and socio-political, with the intention to highlight how acceptance is shaped from numerous factors and actors. Ultimately, this knowledge should assist policy-makers in being more proactive in assessing potential showstoppers for the transition. From the context of partial reversals on onshore wind power, this thesis identifies three issues linked to the relevance of top-down energy planning structures and policies in addressing community acceptance. The first paper addresses energy planning structures through a systematic review of peer-review energy modelling articles. It explores the relationship between energy models, the scales at which these tools are operated, and social aspects. Policy tools are investigated in the second and third papers. The second paper builds on the research on social acceptance and addresses the objective of the thesis to propose an innovative way to frame and address social and community acceptance. The paper applies an analytical framework to the National Renewable Energy Actions Plans (NREAP) of three wind-rich countries, Denmark, UK and Ireland, to explore the ways they articulate social acceptance. The framework was also designed to highlight cross-scalar dynamics that were not sufficiently explored by previous frameworks (Devine-Wright et al., 2017).

This analysis highlights a dearth of policy focus on community acceptance in the three cases. This finding is reinforced by the third paper which presents a statistical analysis of energy cooperative trends in five European countries, and highlights how lack of policy supports is seeing cooperatives’ numbers decline, in particular in Denmark. These findings prompt further interrogations on the means actually deployed to address the lacking community acceptance deplored by Denmark’s and UK’s governments, who have meanwhile decided to prioritise their offshore wind resources.

The Danish case is particularly interesting for the country’s international image as a pioneer thanks to its grassroots-based shared wind sector and advanced policies. Denmark is the topic of the fourth paper, which presents an analysis of interviews conducted with actors of the Danish energy planning sector. This paper also coincides with the announcement of the coalition’s new energy plan in June 2018. This final paper addresses in particular the human difficulties limiting progress for energy modelling to consider social aspects. This discussion leads towards the issue of collaborative work among researchers from different fields, still hindered by reported issues of “language barriers”. Thus, this thesis was designed to address community acceptance through the major steps that see national energy targets translated into local renewable energy developments. Within this broad framing, the thesis points to the current limitation of the European energy planning system, which in conclusion does not appear sufficiently equipped to preventively address possible issues linked to the community acceptance of additional distributed RE sites, still required to reach the set EU and national targets.

The thesis contributes to these broad problematics in two ways, by proposing a cross-scalar analytical framework destined to assess the comprehensiveness of policy sets with regards to the several components of social acceptance, and by addressing persistent collaboration difficulties among practitioners and researchers.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages178
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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