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Welcome to the UCL ISR blog

By Paul Ekins, on 17 April 2012

 

image credit: SXC/Joseph Hart

Welcome to the UCL ISR blog, a guest blog with informative and insightful commentary from invited stakeholders on a range of issues relating to the sustainable use of natural resources.

UCL ISR is also pleased to announce the launch of its Future Energy blog, which presents perspectives on low-carbon future energy systems and sustainable development from ISR academics and other stakeholders. Visit the Future Energy blog to find out more.

Initial steps toward quantifying the social barriers affecting wind energy deployment

By James Price, on 19 December 2017

By Jen Cronin and James Price

The REAccept project aims to quantitatively examine the social acceptance of renewable energy in the UK and use this to improve how such factors are represented in our suite of energy system models.

As described in a previous blog post (by Julia Tomei/Andy Moore on 6th July 2017), a pathfinder project was started in June 2017 with a stakeholder workshop, which focussed on identifying the key drivers affecting social acceptance of renewables, particularly onshore wind. This helped the research team to classify the main physical constraints on wind development and understand the interlocking nature of social drivers, such as attitudes to landscape and habitat conservation, public perception of energy companies and the role of renewables, and concern over house prices.

Following the scoping workshop, the team conducted a survey with workshop participants specifically aimed at quantifying the set-back distances which should be applied to landscape features and residential areas in conservative and ambitious scenarios of social acceptance. Respondents were asked to judge the suitability of different land types for wind development, recommend the minimum distances that should be maintained between wind turbines and features such as roads, grass-land and national parks, and suggest ways in which those distances might be reduced.

Figure 1 Survey results: Recommended set-back distances for 130m turbines.

Ten respondents completed the survey thoroughly, though they were allowed to skip individual questions. Even from this small sample of knowledgeable and engaged stakeholders, a substantial spread of distances were suggested. For example, Figure 1 shows the recommended set-back distances from residential areas, forests and water bodies for a typical wind farm consisting of 10 turbines of 130m height (to the tip).

Respondents suggested that distances to residential areas might be reduced after careful noise studies or if smaller turbines were used. For forests and water bodies, protection of wildlife was a key concern, which could be mitigated by careful site surveys and turbine placement.

Following our pathfinder event, which has allowed us to iterate and refine out methodology, funding is now being sought for a full national-scale project which will seek to quantify the multitude of barriers to the social acceptance of onshore and offshore renewable energy technologies. The survey will be expanded to include other renewable generation technologies and a large sample of members of the public. A series of focus groups and detailed interviews with industry and government experts will also be used to investigate the constraints and the ways in which they could be overcome. The ultimate goal of the project is to understand and quantify the implications of the social acceptance of renewable energy on long term decarbonisation pathways and to value the cost-benefits afforded by potential options to lower these social barriers.

On behalf of REAccept:

Dr Gesche Huebner

Dr Marianne Zeyringer

Dr Julia Tomei

Oliver Broad

Dr James Price

Andy Moore

Jen Cronin

What are the social issues affecting wind energy deployment?

By Julia Tomei, on 6 July 2017

REAccept is a project aiming to improve the social acceptance representation of our energy system models, starting with onshore wind energy and highRES, funded by the BSEER Strategic Development Fund and wholeSEM. Our initial scoping exercise took run from May through June culminating in a stakeholder workshop on 22 June in Cambridge.

Tomei

The core concept of the project is to tackle social acceptability without pinning it down to familiar themes in the literature. This meant designing a workshop where the participants were in the driving seat from the start, framing the discussion the way that suited them. With the ultimate aim of getting quantifiable results to then apply to the model, this was a challenge. Read the rest of this entry »

UK Fisheries Post-Brexit

By Paul Ekins, on 5 July 2017

What do you get when you mix up the arguments of a marine lawyer, an environmentalist, a legal researcher, a marine scientist and a Brexit fisherman, moderated by a Guardian journalist and vigorously stirred by public discussion? A fascinating but inconclusive clash of narratives of UK fishing after the UK leaves the European Union (EU).

ocean 2
At one end of the spectrum is the vision of a newly-sovereign Britain exercising absolute control over its coastal waters out to the limit of its Exclusive Economic Zone, as a result of which the UK fishing industry rebounds back to a £6 billion-plus industry, and the would-be marauding fleets of other European countries are kept out by the Royal Navy if necessary. At the other is a multi-nation agreement between the UK and the EU-27 on mutual access to each other’s waters, which seeks a fair allocation of marine benefits, and tariff-free trade in sea products. Below the surface is the inconvenient behaviour of fish, which refuse to recognise territories or borders, and swim where they will, like migrants in search of the good life. Read the rest of this entry »

Beyond Marrakech: The resource nexus and eco-innovation

By Raimund Bleischwitz, on 7 December 2016

RB blog

The major changes that have occurred across the world call for a new approach to sustainability – one that is driven from the bottom up, rather than by governments.

The outcome of the Marrakech climate change conference can be cheered as a cocktail of mixed ingredients. While some hail a dawn of a new cooperation, others see the whole Paris Agreement at risk of being ditched in an era when big polluters such as the U.S. may pull out of commitments.

Better narratives are needed to bolster the drivers of a greener economy that puts people first, and to align the efforts of powerful coalitions across a variety of international goals. Rewiring climate action from the previous top-down approach that put global environmental public goods at centre stage towards transformative action from the bottom up is actually taking place, but will benefit from new narratives to help people making decisions about sustainability.

The “resource nexus” and “eco-innovation” are two of such new narratives. Both have compelling storylines on their own and have been adopted by a variety of actors around the globe. I believe they can well go together and bring along a much needed new and additional bottom-up dynamic.

Without doubt, 2016 has been a year of major changes. Sweeps of aggressive populism and triumphs of a new ethnic nationalism are the other side of a coin in a world where many people feel left behind, and mass migration has become the new normal. Despite such gloomy trends, positive investment trends and political will seem to prevail towards delivering the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change, two of the promising milestones reached in 2015. But the road ahead won’t be easy; in fact, it will be quite bumpy, and some actors might choose exit options. Read the rest of this entry »

Renewable Energy in Non-Connected Zones in El Chocó, Colombia

By Julia Tomei, on 6 December 2016

Sustainable Development Goal 7 aims to achieve universal access to modern energy services by 2030. A key challenge in meeting this target will be the provision of electricity to remote rural communities, particularly where it is difficult or expensive to extend the electricity grid. Colombia has an electrification rate of 97%, which means that 1.4 million people remain without access to electricity – most of whom live in the Amazon and the departments of Chocó and La Guajira. Located in the northwest of Colombia, Chocó is one of the country’s most underdeveloped regions and faces pressing social, environmental and economic issues. Known for its Afro-Colombian culture, the region is densely forested, rich in deposits of gold and platinum, and highly biodiverse. With both Caribbean and Pacific Coasts, it is also one of the wettest places on the planet and has an average rainfall of between 8,000 – 13,000 mm per year. Read the rest of this entry »

The making of a globally sustainable energy system

By Paul Ekins, on 24 November 2016

sustainable world (c) istockphoto

Blog by Steve Pye, Paul Ekins, Ian Hamilton, November 2016

As delegates at COP22 in Marrakech convene to discuss how to implement the Paris Agreement, there is a continuing focus on how to move to a sustainable global energy system. The challenge is that fossil fuels have long been the mainstay of the energy system, and an essential driver of growth. Rapidly reducing our reliance on their use is no small task, but one that is essential if we are to succeed in achieving the climate ambition set out in the December 2015 Paris Agreement.  The challenge is brought sharply into focus when we consider that the global energy system accounts for 65% of anthropogenic GHG emissions[1], but will need to be a net zero-emitter at some point between 2050 and 2100.  Read the rest of this entry »

Industry doesn’t have to suffer to protect the environment

By Nick Hughes, on 10 October 2016

london-1205328_1280 pixabayAddressing climate change requires strong measures to decarbonise the supply of energy. However, there are concerns that decarbonising energy supply simply drives up the cost of energy – and that this can have a chilling effect on high energy using sectors, such as manufacturing and industry. In this situation, it is sometimes suggested, carbon reductions are achieved, but only because industry packs up and moves its operations to other countries with lower energy costs, to continue to produce its emissions there. Read the rest of this entry »

BREXIT: The mother of all uncertainties

By Paul Ekins, on 29 June 2016

BrexitSo the British people have voted by a margin of around 4%, a little more than 1 million votes, to leave the European Union (EU). Where this will lead lies somewhere between two absolutely contrasting scenarios.

On the positive side, we can imagine that the months before the election of the new British Prime Minister in October see some healing of the great divide that has opened up in the UK, a decision by Scotland not to pursue independence, and Sinn Fein not to pursue a referendum on Irish reunification, a steadying of the economy by the Bank of England and current Chancellor, and therewith a steadying in both the stock and currency markets. Then, in October or November, the new Prime Minister presses the button on Article 50, to be met by a conciliatory European Commission which, over time, makes it clear that UK Associate Membership of the Internal Single Market can indeed be accompanied by restrictions on EU freedom of movement and less need for the UK to implement EU legislation. This takes the heat out of the UK Brexit impulse, so that agreement on UK/EU terms of engagement, which involves minimal disruption to trade and investment, swiftly follows. Businesses and the financial sector heave a sigh of relief and get on with business as usual. The damage of Brexit to the UK and EU economies, and to the UK and EU politically, is minimal, far less than was forecast by practically everyone. ‘Experts’, especially economists, become the butt of more jokes. In five years’ time the UK’s position in Europe is a bit like Norway’s, but immigration has been restricted by the new curbs on freedom of movement. Leavers are delighted and say ‘I told you so’. Remainers are mightily relieved that the meltdown they feared has not occurred. The curbs on the freedom of movement of labour are used by other EU Member States to take the heat out of their populist movements. The ‘reformed’ EU continues more or less as before. Read the rest of this entry »

REQUIEM FOR LONDON’S GREEN SPACES: Do the Mayoral Candidates Care?

By Paul Ekins, on 4 May 2016

green space london (c) flickr Leonard Bentley

The Mayoral and London elections are upon us. Listening to the candidates I have been struck by how one key issue that is crucial to the health and quality of life in this city is absent from their priority lists: London’s green spaces.

The issue is apparently not in the top ten things that Londoners are most worried about (see The Guardian article ‘10 things Londoners are worried about ahead of the mayoral election’). But if they care for their green spaces, they should be worried. All over London (and, of course, in other urban areas too, but this blog is focused on the London Mayoral election), green spaces are under unprecedented threat, both from development, as politicians struggle with the issue that Londoners do care about most – housing – and from commercial events that disrupt and exclude people from normal uses of parks, and greatly reduce parks’ ability to provide Londoners with the benefits they were set up for: peace, tranquillity, nature, a space to exercise, relax with friends and family, without a monetary charge. Read the rest of this entry »

The costs and benefits of EU energy and climate policy

By Michael Grubb, on 4 April 2016

alternative-2489_1920 (c) pixabayMichael Grubb, Professor of International Energy and Climate Change Policy at UCL, examines claims that EU energy regulation increases the costs of UK energy bills and argues that many benefits are often overlooked.

With a speech today by Amber Rudd, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, energy issues have exploded into the Brexit debate. Not before time. An article by Conservative MP Dominic Raab which accompanied his announcement of support for leaving the EU (Sunday Times, 21 Feb) stated that ‘skewed EU energy regulation will add £149 to bills by 2020.’  In an angry reaction to Rudd’s speech today, Matthew Elliot, the Vote Leave campaign chief executive, reiterated claims that EU regulation adds £billions to overall UK energy bills.

Irrespective of exact numbers, there appears to be a widespread belief by many who favour Brexit that the EU’s energy and climate policies impose significant, unjustified costs on the UK and that we could avoid these by leaving. Read the rest of this entry »