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Paolini, V. Social Acceptance of Renewable Energy. Encyclopedia. Available online: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/6178 (accessed on 18 June 2024).
Paolini V. Social Acceptance of Renewable Energy. Encyclopedia. Available at: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/6178. Accessed June 18, 2024.
Paolini, Valerio. "Social Acceptance of Renewable Energy" Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/6178 (accessed June 18, 2024).
Paolini, V. (2021, January 07). Social Acceptance of Renewable Energy. In Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/6178
Paolini, Valerio. "Social Acceptance of Renewable Energy." Encyclopedia. Web. 07 January, 2021.
Social Acceptance of Renewable Energy
Edit

Social acceptance of renewable energy is the attitude of the local population of a given territory to accept the presence, installation or expansion of plants, projects and processes for the production of energy from renewable sources (RES) such as geothermal, sun, wind and biomass. It differs from the generally favorable predisposition of a population towards RES in places far from their homes: indeed, social acceptance of local RES can hinder the development of renewable energy projects, even for a population whose general acceptance of RES is relatively high. 

social acceptance,public involvement,renewable energies

1. Introduction

Due to the threat of climate change, the growing concerns on upward trends in emissions of climate-forcing atmospheric pollutants (i.e., CO2 and CH4) and the need to secure energy independence has led the European Union to negotiate a new Renewable Energy Directive (hereinafter “RED II”) in 2018 to solicit its Member States to undertake a concerted action aiming to transform Europe into a global leader in a variety of renewable energy sectors. To curb the threat of anthropogenic climate change, the European Union (hereinafter “EU”) has approved policies aiming to encourage private investments in expanding the renewable energy production capacity in Europe. The RED II directive modified its previous goal of 20% total energy generation from renewables across the EU by 2020, to 27% by 2030[1].

Furthermore, the climate and energy framework require by 2030 a minimum 40% decrease in greenhouse gas emission levels and an improvement in energy efficiency by 27%.

While these targets may seem too ambitious at first, it is important to realize that the RED II calls only for total energy production of 27% across the entire European Union by 2030; this does not mean that each Member State needs to supply 27% of their energy from renewables by 2030. Therefore, different countries, with different energy infrastructures and histories, have pledged different targets by that time. Nonetheless, each country in the EU has been pushed to significantly develop more renewable energy (RE) infrastructures. With this political will through a strong governmental pressure in place, other challenges sometimes arise in the completion of a renewable energy projects (REP). Social acceptance is one of the most important limiting factors that regularly delay the installation and operation of renewable energy plants.

In 2018, the European Parliament and European Council have agreed again on a further binding target for 32% of energy use that shall come from renewable resources in the European Union by 2030, following more than a year and a half of negotiation. Although the 32% target is binding on the EU as a whole, there are no national targets, and enforcement will depend on the Energy Union Regulation which is currently being negotiated.

While the global benefits of renewable energy is well known, some concerns still exist on their impact on local environment[2][3]. Despite non-renewable energy sources generally have an even worse environmental impact[4][5], the overall uncertainty related to the local impacts of renewable energy plants negatively affect the social acceptance. Social acceptance, defined as the active or passive approval by the public of a certain policy (Bertsch et al., 2016), is one of the most significant barriers toward achieving renewable energy targets. A distinction may be made between a “general social acceptance”, which is social acceptance on the broadest level and that may also be called socio-political acceptance, and a “local social acceptance”, which is active at a community level and is involved in siting and in the actuation of renewable energy projects[6].

In general, in many European countries, the rate of public acceptance across renewable energy sources has been measured to be significantly high[6][7][8][9][10]. In countries with high levels of general public acceptance, across many energy technologies, it has been observed that when one’s local community is directly impacted by the construction of a renewable energy plant, a lack of local community acceptance may grow and contribute to the failure of many promising renewable energy projects, some of which have been the subject of specific case studies[11][12][13]. In other instances, a variety of relational factors that contribute to forming social acceptance, including the trust in public authorities, distribution of quality information, public involvement, and economic benefits are important steps in the acceptance of REP across Europe[6][11][12][13][14][15][16].

While several European cities started a process of urban regeneration in the post-Fordist period following the pivotal examples of Barcelona[17] and Bilbao[18], the apparent improvements in better and healthier environments did not translate into solutions for renewable energy production. Behind these processes, instead, the creation of profit-driven spaces was the main focus of the interventions and social acceptance was usually limited to the upper class in order to create a proper social environment, thus leading to gentrification, people displacement and even more pollution following the logic of capital[19]. Even more recently, after the pandemic outbreak, these issues are under a specific treatment through new proposals that refer to the concept of 20-min neighborhoods, 15-min city, and superblocks, which generally seem to be more socially accepted than more effective solutions related to renewable energy projects[20][21].

The key factors in social acceptance of RES are: trust, distributional justice, siting issues and socio-demographic factors.

2. Trust

There is a trend in affirming the positive correlation with supplying quality information and procedural justice, and levels of mutual trust between the community and the developer. A developer should always prioritize establishing mutual trust with the community. Generally, increasing mutual trust is done through community participation and the dissemination of information. To increase the probability of community acceptance, a transparent process builds mutual trust with residents and allows them to stay informed at various stages of development. Conversely, a lack of transparency contributed to rejection and significant opposition by residents to the development of REP in their community. Significant disapproval by the community is linked to a lack of opportunities for community involvement and misinformation about REP. Transparent communication is crucial in establishing trust and can affect community perceptions of renewable energy. For instance, where there is no communication between residents and developers, communities tend to view this strategy as deceptive and this creates distrust. It is crucial in maintaining community acceptance to engage with locals and establish mutual trust through open communication and opportunities for participation as early as possible in the development of REP. The level of communication and participation depends on the individual REP because certain constraints may prevent a transparent process from the early stages of the REP. The involvement of the public interested groups (i.e., local communities that often may oppose the initiative) in the early stage of project development allows the REP developer to consider the specific requests of local communities and develop a mutually beneficial partnership that will facilitate the construction of new REP installations in the area and its future operation. Generally, transparent communication with the public about a developer’s REP plans from the early stage of the project development will provide an opportunity for the local community to participate in the planning decisions and will likely increase social acceptance. Conversely, the lack of collaboration and transparency from developers has always led to a strong opposition from several national and local non-governmental organizations (NGO) causing both an economic loss for the developer and a missed opportunity for the local communities to move their local economy towards an advanced business-oriented green model to foster a more efficient circular economy. An important method of promoting participation and establishing trust is the creation of a local supporters’ network. This network can be made up of prominent local actors who already carry out with them some level of community trust and are publicly supporting the REP. Consequently, this local supporters’ network can disseminate information into the public sphere more organically, associate the REP with trusted and positive actors, and counterbalance any opposition networks that may be formed[12][13][16].

Public involvement in the planning process is crucial for the acceptance of a REP. While substantial public participation can be bothersome for developers, the involvement of the community can be minimal. Creating opportunities for residents to participate in the development of REP in small ways can significantly improve public perceptions. For instance, information sessions, public forums, and listening to public opinions and concerns can greatly improve perceptions of REP, dispel any misconceptions, and concerns that would have arisen inevitably over the planning process can be confronted and mitigated. Participatory democracy constitutes nowadays a key item in the European model of social development. In the Treaty of European Union (TEU), amending the Treaty of Lisbon (13 December 2007), complementarity between representative democracy and participatory democracy is established. Participation becomes a right of citizens and subsidiarity is a cornerstone of participatory democracy. Public participation in planning and development also quite often leads to the dissemination of quality information into the public. Most of the literature analysed confirmed correlation of public participation and a project’s success. Generally, a strong opposition network seems to arise as a result of exempting the local population from either participating in the decision-making process or simply supplying information about the proposed RE.

Public debate is an operating method engineered by a commission of specialists with proven experience and authority, capable to give the necessary guarantee of credibility to the entire discussion, intended to involve citizens and inhabitants in the process of developing major actions regarding the territory: it ensures full and transparent information about an action in the design stage to all stakeholders, offering them the opportunity to express their opinion, both as individuals and as organized groups.

The literature has shown that the dissemination of information and promoting procedural justice will likely build trust between the community and the developer. A lack of trust in the principal actors of an REP and in the process are a significant barrier to the local acceptance of REP. Many concerns are founded upon mistrust and misinformation such as economic, environmental, and human ecological concern. While there can be legitimate concerns, the results affirm that much of the worry is borne from a lack of knowledge.

3. Distributional Justice

Distributional justice ensures that the benefits and costs of the project are fairly distributed[22]. The literature suggests that distributional justice is an institutional determinant of social acceptance for every community across Europe. While promoting distributional justice through financial participation alone may not have a large impact on local acceptance [22], it is important that the perceived benefits and costs of an REP are equally distributed among all participants in a community. The results also affirm that financial compensation in some form is a powerful incentive for the local acceptance of an REP that may inconvenience the public. The trend shown by the results is that a financial community benefit will increase the public’s support for a RE plant. The perception of benefits can also be instrumental in increasing local acceptance. For instance, the creation of jobs, even if there are only a few, is perceived as a community benefit that will likely promote the acceptance of an REP.

4. Siting 

Many issues related to the siting of an REP can be attributed to the physical aspects of the type of renewable energy. Environmental and human ecological concerns can be unique to a specific REP. For instance, a frequent concern of wind farms is the noise pollution caused by the wind turbines. However, it was also shown that some siting issues are related to emotional and psychological factors such as the rejection of the implementation of an REP because of place attachment or the destruction of landscape that will ensue. Some of the local opposition towards the installation of REP in their community is attributed to the NIMBY phenomenon. This is another psychological factor influencing the local acceptance as it displays a certain level of contradiction where they support RE but not its implementation in their community.

Another key point with siting issue is that REP plants can often exist at very small scale, while conventional energy plants generally consist of larger industrial facilities. Most of the examples provided in recent literature[23][24][25] can likely be installed very close to residential locations, thus increasing the NIMBY phenomenon.

5. Socio-Demographic Factors

Many socio-demographic factors can influence multiple aspects of local acceptance. The results have shown that socio-demographic factors affect the local acceptance in varying ways depending on the specific community and the country. For instance, different countries have varying political atmospheres which can deeply impact the level of trust in the process, the willingness to adopt RE, and the tolerance for community costs, which are all determinants of social acceptance. There is no consensus on the direct effect of specific socio-demographic factors as they have varying impacts depending on State, however, it is important to recognize that they do have a certain effect on the local acceptance of REP.

References

  1. European Parliament. Directive (EU) 2018/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2018 on the Promotion of the Use of Energy from Renewable Sources (Text with EEA Relevance; European Parliament: Bruxelles, Belgium, 2018. Available online: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32018L2001 (accessed on 7 December 2020).
  2. Paolini, V.; Petracchini, F.; Segreto, M.; Tomassetti, L.; Naja, N.; Cecinato, A. Environmental impact of biogas: A short review of current knowledge. J. Environ. Sci. Health Part A Toxic/Hazard. Subst. Environ. Eng. 2018.
  3. Petracchini, F.; Romagnoli, P.; Paciucci, L.; Vichi, F.; Imperiali, A.; Paolini, V.; Liotta, F.; Cecinato, A. Influence of transport from urban sources and domestic biomass combustion on the air quality of a mountain area. Environ. Sci. Pollut. Res. 2017.
  4. Lin, B.; Jia, Z. Economic, energy and environmental impact of coal-to-electricity policy in China: A dynamic recursive CGE study. Sci. Total Environ. 2020.
  5. Petracchini, F.; Paciucci, L.; Vichi, F.; D’Angelo, B.; Aihaiti, A.; Liotta, F.; Paolini, V.; Cecinato, A. Gaseous pollutants in the city of Urumqi, Xinjiang: Spatial and temporal trends, sources and implications. Atmos. Pollut. Res. 2016.
  6. Wüstenhagen, R.; Wolsink, M.; Bürer, M.J. Social acceptance of renewable energy innovation: An introduction to the concept. Energy Policy 2007.
  7. van der Horst, D. NIMBY or not? Exploring the relevance of location and the politics of voiced opinions in renewable energy siting controversies. Energy Policy 2007.
  8. Ribeiro, F.; Ferreira, P.; Araújo, M.; Braga, A.C. Public opinion on renewable energy technologies in Portugal. Energy 2014.
  9. Caporale, D.; De Lucia, C. Social acceptance of on-shore wind energy in Apulia Region (Southern Italy). In Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews; Elsevier: Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 2015; Volume 52, pp. 1378–1390.
  10. Moula, M.M.E.; Maula, J.; Hamdy, M.; Fang, T.; Jung, N.; Lahdelma, R. Researching social acceptability of renewable energy technologies in Finland. Int. J. Sustain. Built Environ. 2013.
  11. Capodaglio, A.G.; Callegari, A.; Lopez, M.V. European framework for the diffusion of biogas uses: Emerging technologies, acceptance, incentive strategies, and institutional-regulatory support. Sustainability 2016, 8, 298.
  12. Upreti, B.R.; Van Der Horst, D. National renewable energy policy and local opposition in the UK: The failed development of a biomass electricity plant. Biomass Bioenergy 2004.
  13. Jobert, A.; Laborgne, P.; Mimler, S. Local acceptance of wind energy: Factors of success identified in French and German case studies. Energy Policy 2007.
  14. Soland, M.; Steimer, N.; Walter, G. Local acceptance of existing biogas plants in Switzerland. Energy Policy 2013.
  15. Magnani, N. Exploring the local sustainability of a green economy in alpine communities. Mt. Res. Dev. 2012.
  16. McLaren Loring, J. Wind energy planning in England, Wales and Denmark: Factors influencing project success. Energy Policy 2007.
  17. Camerin, F. From “Ribera Plan” to “Diagonal Mar”, passing through 1992 “Vila Olímpica”. How urban renewal took place as urban regeneration in Poblenou district (Barcelona). Land Use Policy 2019.
  18. Camerin, F.; Mora, A.A. Regenerating Bilbao: From “productive industries” to “productive services”. Territorio 2019.
  19. Hartoonian, G. The iconic project: Architecture, cities, and capitalist globalization. Plan. Perspect. 2017.
  20. Capolongo, S.; Rebecchi, A.; Buffoli, M.; Appolloni, L.; Signorelli, C.; Fara, G.M.; D’Alessandro, D. COVID-19 and cities: From urban health strategies to the pandemic challenge. a decalogue of public health opportunities. Acta Biomed. 2020.
  21. Honey-Rosés, J.; Anguelovski, I.; Chireh, V.K.; Daher, C.; Konijnendijk van den Bosch, C.; Litt, J.S.; Mawani, V.; McCall, M.K.; Orellana, A.; Oscilowicz, E.; et al. The impact of COVID-19 on public space: An early review of the emerging questions – design, perceptions and inequities. Cities Health 2020.
  22. Vuichard, P.; Stauch, A.; Dällenbach, N. Individual or collective? Community investment, local taxes, and the social acceptance of wind energy in Switzerland. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 2019.
  23. Rikkonen, P.; Tapio, P.; Rintamäki, H. Visions for small-scale renewable energy production on Finnish farms—A Delphi study on the opportunities for new business. Energy Policy 2019.
  24. Del Giudice, A.; Acampora, A.; Santangelo, E.; Pari, L.; Bergonzoli, S.; Guerriero, E.; Petracchini, F.; Torre, M.; Paolini, V.; Gallucci, F. Wood chip drying through the using of a mobile rotary dryer. Energies 2019, 12, 1590.
  25. Varho, V.; Rikkonen, P.; Rasi, S. Futures of distributed small-scale renewable energy in Finland—A Delphi study of the opportunities and obstacles up to 2025. Technol. Forecast. Soc. Chang. 2016.
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