The Task in a nutshell
This Task will focus on public engagement in the context of building renewable energy generation plants (wind turbines, solar systems and biomass) as well as electricity transmission and distribution grids. By reviewing the success of existing approaches, we aim to provide transferable and actionable guidance for future engagement activities done by project developers and public authorities.
Throughout the Task, we will involve stakeholders, specifically in the form of interviews and workshop participation. Based on their inputs as well as a comprehensive literature analysis, we will develop a best practice guide for public participation in energy infrastructure. This will also lead to the provision of policy-relevant insights on effective engagement of the public in energy infrastructure developments – all with the overall aim of improving project acceptability, public support for project developments as well as the speed of the energy transition.
The importance of public participation and its evaluation
To achieve the international climate and energy goals, a rapid and profound transformation of our energy system is required. This process is a socio-technical transition that affects people all over the world. As such, public involvement is crucial to ensure that society’s opinions, needs, and concerns are considered, and a truly just and inclusive energy transition is pursued.
In many countries, public involvement in the energy transition is high on the political agenda in order to increase acceptability of decarbonisation policies, ensure local and regional benefits of sustainable transformations, and, ultimately, speed up the energy transition. The European Union, for example, understands public acceptance as crucial to the modernisation and development of energy infrastructure to ensure secure, affordable and clean energy for all.
In addition, renewable energy technologies offer citizens the opportunity to become involved in local decision-making processes, become infrastructure owners, and participate in energy production and distribution.
At the same time, if there is no transparent process or public involvement in decision-making processes, infrastructure projects (and the energy transition by extension) can be hampered by opposition connected to fears of negative impacts on wildlife, agriculture, fisheries or landscape, to name just a few.
Over the past years and decades, many participation and involvement processes and practices have been developed, but no comprehensive overview of factors for success/failure exists. This Task will start filling this information gap by evaluating past and current participatory actions and drawing lessons for effective engagement including useful formats and degrees of involvement.
The Task’s specific research interests
The objectives for the research behind this task are:
(1) To identify common challenges to effective public engagement on energy infrastructure and explore how best to resolve these with leading experts across the world. This includes:
- Understanding social-psychological drivers of and barriers to engagement with energy infrastructure developments: What are the drivers and barriers for groups and individuals to participate?
- Understanding socio-technical and institutional drivers of and barriers to engagement with energy infrastructure developments: What are the drivers and barriers for public engagement that come from the broader socio-technical systems’ context and legal and institutional environment?
(2) To collect evidence from international case studies about which public engagement approaches are effective/ineffective, and under which circumstances (within the field of energy infrastructure). This includes:
- Understanding outcomes and inclusiveness: To what extent are different forms of public engagement inclusive and lead to fair energy infrastructure developments? How do initiatives contribute to climate neutrality at the system level, considering distributional effects and required investments?
(3) To collaborate internationally to develop best practice guidance for public engagement around energy infrastructure
Overview of the steps we will take during the implementation of this Task
The work programme is divided into five work packages (WPs). They are:
(0) Project management
This WP will focus on the development of a solid research design and on ensuring quality and risk management for the overall Task.
(1) Review of public engagement, drivers and barriers
This WP will focus on a literature review of past and current public participation approaches in energy infrastructure projects. This research will also identify drivers and barriers to participation. The literature review on both aspects will be complemented by expert interviews to add to the breadth and depth of information.
(2) Impact assessment of case studies
This WP will look at specific participation case studies, develop an evaluation framework (based on the outputs of WP 1) and then assess the selected case studies with regard to participation outcomes.
This WP will be built on expert workshops and discuss the results of the work done in WPs 1 and 2 to jointly develop a best practice guide for effective public engagement.
(4) Communication and dissemination
This WP will take care of the communication and dissemination of the project results and the best practice guide in particular. This also includes the presentation of Task results at conferences and events as well as the development of a related policy brief.
Overview of planned outputs
This Task will produce the following outputs:
(1) Slide-pack and report of internationally identified socio-psychological, socio-technical and institutional drivers and barriers for the acceptance of energy infrastructure projects and for participation in energy infrastructure decision-making. This will be validated with experts to provide an overview, which of the drivers and barriers are more relevant depending on the country/regional contexts.
(2) Slide-pack on international good practice participation approaches and initiatives from case studies and different technologies across the OECD. The results will contain country specific rules, regulations, and practices concerning public engagement in the energy infrastructure planning and development processes, country-wide information and awareness-raising communications and marketing campaigns and local initiatives.
(3) Impact matrix and report of the impact assessment of international energy infrastructure development projects with different forms of public participation, including impacts on acceptance, to what extend concerns are addressed, speed of development, social cohesion and inclusiveness.
(4) Best practice guide (in form of a visual and practical slide-pack and a report), including a decision support tool (decision tree), for public involvement in various types of energy development projects and a variety of contexts. The guide will provide evidence-based and context-specific recommendations and practical advice for how governments and organisations should engage the public around energy developments, including how to embed this into broader policy design, delivery, and governance structures. The guide will describe best practices, highlighting success factors and learnings across energy infrastructure projects and issues specific to certain types of energy infrastructure. The decision support tool will match available engagement options to local contexts and project characteristics and will build upon the work of other related tools for public participation in energy.
(5) A dedicated and targeted communication campaign to increase the outreach of the project’s results and important evidence, as well as create synergies with similar initiatives and projects around the globe.