Lancaster University

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Research probes renewable energy attitudes

10/31/2005 16:22:47

Lancaster University is taking part in a joint study looking at ‘Not In My Back Yard’ attitudes towards renewable energy.

The research will look at factors influencing what has been called the ‘NIMBY’ response to renewable energy technologies such as onshore wind farms, to see if this really does provide a good explanation for how people react to new proposed developments.

The research will look at different renewable energy technologies including offshore wind turbines, biomass power plant, large-scale solar panels and prototype ocean technologies. Little is known about how members of the public view these technologies, with most attention given to arguments over large-scale wind farms.

The study ‘Beyond NIMBYism: a multidisciplinary investigation of public engagement with renewable energy technologies’, will be undertaken at De Montfort University’s Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development (IESD), as part of a team including researchers at Lancaster, Loughborough, Northumbria and Surrey Universities.

The Economic and Social Research Council has awarded £500,000 to support the research project as part of the Research Council's energy programme.

University energy experts will launch the three year study at the UK’s first ever energy research summit next week (November 1) at the inaugural Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Energy Research Summit in London.

Eight investigators from different disciplines will work on increasing understanding of local resistance and consent to individual schemes, the ways in which public engagement is structured and practised in the UK, and how it shapes public perceptions.

The project aims to produce novel insights into how public engagement in renewable energy development is currently practised in the UK, as well as a framework to guide future public engagement practice which will be disseminated to a range of stakeholders including industry, policy makers, advocacy groups and the public through a project website and publications.

Professor Gordon Walker of Lancaster University’s Department of Geography is one of the main collaborators in this project.

He said: “Whilst there has been a lot of public controversy about on-shore wind farms, including some proposed in this region, it is important to remember that renewable energy is not just about wind farms. This project will look across the range of new energy technologies and find out how members of the public view each of these. Most people agree that renewable energy is in principle a good thing. Through our research we will develop recommendations as to how a more productive dialogue between developers and local people who have concerns about particular projects near to where they live can be achieved.”

The Government’s Energy White Paper (2003) contained ambitious goals for decarbonising the UK economy, including increasing development of renewable energy technologies to provide 10 per cent of UK electricity supply by 2010, and 20 per cent by 2020 to facilitate a step change in carbon emissions reduction by 2050.

Principal Investigator for the research, Dr Patrick Devine-Wright, an environmental psychologist of De Montfort University’s IESD, said: “To have any chance of meeting these targets, we need to better understand the reasons why renewable energy projects in the UK frequently lead to local controversy and antagonism between members of the public and other stakeholders including developers, local authorities and regional bodies.

“Through systematic, multi-disciplinary research and case studies of public engagement in renewable energy projects, this research will enable us to better understand the determinants of public perceptions, manage uncertainty in renewables development, and help contribute to government targets for increasing the amount of electricity generated by renewable energy resources.”