Renewable energies: energy efficiency, landscape integration and social consensus

The advance towards new forms of energy generation based on renewable resources is an essential requirement today in the strategy for the mitigation of the causes and effects of the global warming process. However, the implementation of renewable energy generation and distribution infrastructure has, in more than a few cases, aroused significant social opposition in many territories. One of the reasons contributing most notably to this rejection is the impact that the aforementioned energy infrastructure has on the landscape. Indeed, growing awareness about the landscape and its values is one of the emerging phenomena in contemporary societies. The negative reaction and poor acceptance on the part of the territories where in many cases there are implementation projects for renewable energy infrastructure cause greater difficulties for their implementation, provoke social and political conflicts, and impede their dissemination as well as the more intensive implementation of the policies in favour of renewable energies. Some of the reasons for this opposition could be similar to the NIMBY-type instincts. However, an interpretation of this type would certainly be reductive. In effect, leaving to one side the more or less particularist expressions, these reactions are partly based on factors of a structural nature, like a greater concern for the environment and the increase in the importance of place. A lack of consideration for all the stakeholders in the decision-making processes, a lack of information and transparency in many of the plans for renewable energy implementation, and poor planning are factors that have aggravated the conflicts. Finally, it is worth noting that in the majority of cases concern for the landscape on the part of the installations developers has been very little. We are therefore faced with the paradox of the existence of a broad  consensus on the need to implement renewable energy on the one hand, but the rejection provoked by a number of specific installations on the other. However, experience shows that there are diverse cases of best practices which, through participative planning processes, the design of the installations, land art interventions and others, have managed not only to overcome the contradiction but to achieve consensual and positive results for all stakeholders involved. The possibility to disseminate and generalise these practices is evidently interesting and opportune at a time when international agendas for mitigating the causes and effects of climate change need a new boost for their implementation and for renewed social acceptance.

The research “Renewable energy: energy efficiency, landscape integration and social acceptability” sets out the analysis of the relationship between RES implementation, landscape integration and social acceptability. The research carried out by the Department of Geography at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona under the direction of Prof. Oriol Nel•lo, aims to identify and systemise a set of good practices that can help reduce the emergence of conflicts and aid successful processes in the territorial implementation and landscape integration of renewable energy generation infrastructures. Within these best practices, both awareness and decision-making processes must be considered in the different development phases of these types of projects.

The research has four objectives:
a) To analyse conflicts related to the integration of renewable energy plants in the landscape;

b) To identify critical factors in the evolution and resolution of such conflicts;

c) To develop a catalogue of good practices;

d) To produce a rough guide for public administration, energy companies and community movements to prevent, deal with and solve conflicts.

In order to achieve these objectives, the research will be carried out through the following steps:
a) Identification and selection of case studies: four renewable energies (bioenergy, geothermal, solar and wind) and six European countries (Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom).

b) Case study analysis:
– The project and its technical characteristics and requirements.
– Territorial and landscape context and integration.
– Chronology of the project development.
– Development of the decision making process and conflict and critical aspects.

c) Compilation of an inventory of case studies. Comparative analysis.

d) Elaboration of a catalogue of good practices and rough guide.