Creating Good Practice in Renewable Wind Energy Policy for a Low Carbon Economy
Submitting InstitutionQueen's University Belfast
Unit of AssessmentArchitecture, Built Environment and Planning
Summary Impact TypeEnvironmental
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration, Sociology
Summary of the impact
This case study describes the policy impact of research on the deployment
of renewable energy in Ireland, the UK and internationally. Three key
policy impacts are highlighted;
1) The research has shaped policies underpinning the Republic of
Ireland's aim to become a net energy exporter by 2030 and influenced other
stakeholders in this field;
2) It has influenced good practice recommended globally by the
International Energy Agency on the social acceptance of wind energy;
3) It has generated evidence on the performance of the UK's devolved
administrations on renewable energy, which has been deployed in
constitutional debates over Scottish Independence.
Although the deployment of renewables is often seen as being limited by technical
factors, this research has highlighted the social constraints
to the expansion of sustainable energy and led to its reflection in policy
The research evolved from an ESRC project (RES-000-22-1095, PI Ellis1),
examining the motivations of supporters and opponents of a disputed wind
farm on the island of Ireland. Using innovative methods, it developed a
novel critique of the dominant `NIMBY' discourse that has (mis)informed
debates about opposition to renewable energy projects—even at UK
ministerial level (see http://bit.ly/1075d9M).
It showed that dominant terms of reference have exacerbated the weak
community acceptance of wind projects. The project undermined the
stereotype of wind-farm objectors as monolithic, irrational and `deviant',
showing a variety of attitudes and rationalities for opposition and
support. It found that the adversarial discourse prevented positive
engagement, often condemning developments to prolonged opposition, when
rapid deployment was needed to meet renewable-energy targets. It
highlighted the need for a more nuanced understanding of disputes and for
developers and policy-makers to respond to local concerns through enhanced
community benefits, public participation and more sensitive appreciation
of project impacts. It also highlighted the impact of governance
structures and decision-making processes on attitudes to renewable-energy
development. This project led to a number of highly citied research papers
(e.g. Ellis et al. 2008) and disseminated via stakeholder
These insights led to engagement with scholars from other institutions,
including Cowell (Cardiff University), Strachan (RGU Aberdeen), Warren
(St. Andrews), Szarka (Bath University) and Toke (Birmingham/Aberdeen
universities). Projects included an ESRC seminar series (Where Next for
Wind, RES-62-232526, 2007-09, Ellis CI) that involved discussion
with over 150 leading stakeholders from government, community and
industrial interests, leading to further outputs, some specifically aimed
at the planning-practitioner community (e.g. Ellis et al, 20092,3). This
led to new research directions for assessing the policy lessons arising
from devolution through a major ESRC project (RES-062-23-2526, 2011-2013,
Ellis CI4) involving researchers across the UK. The end of this
project coincided with a major dissemination programme across the UK which
led to extensive press coverage and the impacts discussed below.
This work also led to opportunities to directly shape Irish national
energy policy, through the development of best practice for social
acceptance for the Sustainable Energy Agency Ireland (SEAI 20125),
and through this work Ellis was appointed the Irish National Expert for
the International Energy Agency's work in this area. This has led to Ellis
being a key author on the IEA's Recommended Practices for Social
Acceptance of Wind Energy Projects (20136), which has
been taken up by national governments, local authorities and wind-energy
developers throughout the world and promoted by wind energy agencies in
Europe and North America. More recently, Ellis has been part of a team
preparing a report on Transforming the Irish Energy System for the
National Economic and Social Council (http://www.nesc.ie/
), which directly advises the Taoiseach on strategic issues for Ireland's
economic and social development.
References to the research
1. Ellis, G., Barry, J. and Robinson, C. (2008), Many Ways To Say
`No'—Different Ways to Say `Yes': Applying Q-Methodology to Understand
Public Acceptance of Wind Farm Proposals. Journal of Planning and
Environmental Management, 50 (4), pp 517-551.
This remains one of the most cited papers in the Journal of
Environmental Planning and Management.
2. Ellis, G., Cowell, R., Warren, C., Strachan, P. and Szarka, J. (2009),
Expanding Wind Power: A Problem of Planning, or Perception?' Journal
of Planning Theory and Practice, 10 (4), pp 521-547.
This was published as the lead article in the Interface section of the Journal
of Planning Theory and Practice, which is specifically aimed at an
exchange of ideas among researchers, policy-makers and wind-energy
developers. It was circulated to more than 23,000 members of the Royal
Town Planning Institute (see www.rtpi.org.uk/item/3327).
Ellis et al.'s lead paper was responded to by the Minister of the
Environment in the Republic of Ireland, the CPRE (a key objector to many
wind energy schemes) and other leading international scholars.
3. Szarka, J., Cowell, R., Ellis, G., Strachan, P. and Warren, C. (2012,
eds), Learning from Wind Power: Governance and Societal Perspectives
on Sustainable Energy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
This edited book sought to transfer the policy lessons from wind energy
to other renewable energy technologies.
4. Toke, D., Sherry-Brennan, F., Cowell, R., Ellis, G. and Strachan, P.
(2013), Scotland, Renewable Energy and the Independence Debate: Will Head
or Heart Rule the Roost? Political Quarterly, 84 (1), pp 1-8.
This paper sparked a wide range of press coverage, as shown in section 5.
Details of the impact
The impacts from this research include direct influence on renewable
energy policy and practice in Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic and
internationally, involving public, NGO and private sectors. This is
reflected in the demand for Ellis as a speaker, having made over 40
presentations to national, international, academic and practitioner
The impact having greatest reach is Ellis' role as the Irish National
Expert for IEA Task28 Working Group on Social Acceptance of Wind Energy
Projects. The IEA has 28 member countries and is one of the world's
leading energy authorities. Ellis's work on Task28 has included
participation in a series of high-level international meetings and
development of good-practice guidance, including co-authoring the Task28's
Final Report (2012) and its Recommended Practices for Social
Acceptance of Wind Energy Projects (2013). These were disseminated
at a global level, setting international standards for wind-energy
development and have been promoted by the European Wind Energy Association
among others. A corroborating statement confirms that Ellis:
`.... had an active and influential role in the Group's activities,
including helping to draft the Group's Final Report in 2012 and its
Recommended Practices Report in 2013. The expertise developed through
[Ellis'] peer-reviewed research provided a crucial input to the
development of these reports, which are being disseminated to
Governments, regulators, industry interests and other stakeholders
throughout the world.'
More specifically, this research has had a direct impact in Ireland, one
of the world's most wind-rich countries, via Ellis' work for the SEAI (the
national energy authority). This included authoring best-practice
principles for fostering social acceptance of wind energy projects. A
corroborating statement notes Ellis' expert contribution:
"... on a number of initiatives aimed at helping [SEAI] understand
and formulate guidance for improving social acceptance of renewable
developments ... which reflects our view that [Ellis is] the
leading authority on social acceptance on the island of Ireland and we
welcome the advice [provided] in this capacity."
Ellis has also acted as an independent expert witness to the NI Assembly
Environment Committee's enquiry into wind energy.
Although it is difficult to provide evidence for a direct impact in other
jurisdictions, many issues raised in Ellis' research are being addressed
throughout the UK, such as the emphasis on community energy and
awareness-raising activities of organisations such as the Joseph Rowntree
Foundation. For example the Fermanagh Trust, drew on Ellis' work in its
report on community energy in NI, which itself has stimulated government
policy in this area. Their corroborating statement notes:
"... this research and policy advice has played a very important role
in developing our position on these issues and that [Ellis']
expertise in this area has had an influential role on a number of
stakeholders throughout Northern Ireland and beyond."
In addition to policy influence, the research has had impact on the
practice of wind developers, with Ellis being asked to address the 2013 UK
staff training day of RES (a leading developer) and the 2013 Wind Energy
Developers Congress in Berlin. More widely, many developers now employ
community-liaison officers informed by Ellis' work, while the Irish Wind
Energy Association and the NI Renewable Industry Group have adopted
protocols for securing community benefits, as called for in Ellis' 2012
SEAI report. A corroborating statement from one developer, notes:
"...exposure to [Ellis'] work has certainly been useful for us to
reflect on the social and policy environment in which we work and the
nature of our approach to community engagement as followed in our
Finally, Ellis' et al recent work on devolution and renewables were
presented at Welsh and NI Assembly committees, the Westminster
Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group and at events in
Aberdeen, Belfast, Cardiff and Dublin. These had more than 250 high-level
participants, findings reported by more than 60 UK newspapers (A, below)
and cited by the Scottish First Minister (B). A subsequent paper published
in the Political Quarterly was also covered by the press,
influencing the debate on Scottish independence (C). Recent work for
Ireland's National Economic and Social Council will also directly advise
Ireland's Prime Minister.
This work has piloted the research on the social interaction with
renewable energy and how it can be integrated into policy and practice.
Combined with high level dissemination, press coverage and agenda-setting
academic papers makes a persuasive case for claiming international impact.
While it is possible to provide examples of impact from the last six
years, the increasingly deployment of renewables and the need to rapidly
decarbonise, will ensure that its relevance will continue into the
Sources to corroborate the impact
Operating Agent, International Energy Agency Wind Task 28.
Chief Executive Officer, Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland.
Director, Fermangh Trust.
Director, First Flight Wind LtdA. The launch of the final report on Delivering
Renewable Energy Under Devolution was covered in more than 60 UK
papers at the end of January 2013, with examples being:
B. The First Minister of Scotland referred to the research in his keynote
speech on January 29th 2013 at this conference: www.scottishrenewables.com/events/offshore-wind/programme/
C. The paper published in the Political Quarterly on Renewable
Energy and Scottish Independence was covered in more than 10 national