Social Acceptance of Renewable Energy
Exploring key issues relevant to local governments:
Issue 1: Dimensions of social acceptance of energy innovation
Social acceptance is not the same as public opinion; rather, it represents a more complex issue. Within social acceptance, more specific sub-categories can be identified to better understand acceptance issues of renewable energy. According to Wolsink there are three dimensions of social acceptance that must be taken into account when fostering renewable energy innovations:
- Social-political acceptance: this refers to the support for or resistance to renewable energy policies, and relates to all the “stakeholders“ (social actors), whose interests are likely to be affected by the implemented projects.
- Community acceptance: this is the attitude that residents and local authorities take when confronted with renewable energy projects.
- Market acceptance: in terms of adoption of innovative products, for example innovative socio-technical systems (e.g. wind turbines, photovoltaic panels, just to mention a few). The issue of market acceptance relates closely to the role of citizens, especially in the case of community-led initiatives, when they participate as investors in groups, for example in cooperatives or other social initiatives, thus assuming the role of shareholders.
Issue 2: Different Dimensions of Local Energy Conflicts
In order to understand energy conflicts and therefore how to deal with them, different dimensions can be used for their analysis. These dimensions do not need to be rigid categories but can be helpful guides when trying to make sense of a local energy conflict. Becker, Bues and Naumann suggest the following dimensions in order to analyse local energy conflicts.
- Material dimension: the material dimension of a local energy conflict deals with the physical object of the conflict, for example a wind energy plant or a biogas plant. The exact design and setup of such material elements can cause a conflict and therefore should be adaptable to the demands of public participation.
- Spatial dimension: the spatial dimension asks whether a conflict is concerned with a specific location and how the conflict extends spatially. A specific location might be important because it has a certain value for local identity as a landmark or special status in local history. The spatial expansion of a conflict matters because other local or regional governments might have to be involved.
- Temporal dimension: conflicts evolve over time, but not in a linear way. Acknowledging the temporal dimension of conflicts can help decipher them and react in a constructive way. Which milestones exist in the process? What are the hot and cold phases? Which different time rhythms exist in different organisations and processes (administration, businesses, citizen initiatives, or planning process)? When are developments happening quickly and when slowly? What are windows of opportunity? Keeping these questions in mind can help to turn an energy conflict towards positive acceptance.
- Actor dimension: the actor dimension is at the heart of every conflict. No conflict can exist without people, groups of actors and stakeholders. Who are they, what are their aims, which strategies and resources do they have in order to reach their goals – these questions should be kept in mind when dealing with actors in an energy conflict.
Issue 3: Archetypes of Local Energy Conflicts
Based on the four dimensions explained above, Becker, Bues and Naumann suggest five archetypical categories of conflicts that can often be found in municipalities. Within these categories stakeholders face disagreements over the local aims or are forced to consider alternatives. These categories can be used as a starting point when trying to understand a certain conflict.
- Distribution Conflicts (i.e. beneficiaries vs. non-beneficiaries, residents vs. trans-regional investors, “old” vs. “new” residents)
- Procedural Conflicts (i.e. access to information and participation, transparency of elections, timing of elections and decisions)
- Location or Land Use Conflicts (i.e. installations close to vs. far from settlements, low visibility vs. effects on landscapes)
- Identity Conflicts (i.e. energy region vs. tourist region)
- Conflicts over energy sources or Technical Conflicts (i.e. fossil fuel vs. renewable energy providers)