Start date: 1/03/2012

Date of completion: 31/12/2014

RENERGY Socio-Technical Consensus and Controversy on Renewable Energies

The purpose of this project is to understand social attitudes towards the macro-generation of renewable energies, namely the solar and wind power plants, for the analysis of the consensuses and controversies about these technologies in Portugal. Since renewable energies are considered to be crucial to climate change mitigation, social responses to them are a key factor in their diffusion and success.

This theme has already been the subject of numerous studies in Europe and the United States devoted to the policies and economics of renewable energies and above all to the local impacts and conflicts generated by wind farms. However, this project will try to fill some knowledge gaps in this area.

First, this project approaches the subject from the perspective of social studies of science, based on the bibliography of the relations between science and politics, controversies of technological risk and public participation in science and technology. Second, it adopts a comprehensive approach that takes into account the diversity of social actors involved and analyzes the macro and micro levels of consensus and conflict using different methodologies. Finally, this project covers a much less studied object (solar power plants) and focuses on the case of Portugal, where there is very little research done on this subject and which has specific characteristics that make it worthy of study: excellent natural conditions for a strong political investment in this area, seemingly high levels of acceptance of these technologies and atypical relations between science, politics and citizens.

The research problem will be analyzed at both national and local levels. With regard to the national framework, it is intended to build a comprehensive picture of the actions and speeches of the social actors involved: politicians, decision-makers, companies, environmental NGOs, other civil society organizations, scientists. Under analysis will be the processes of policy development and incentives, planning and decision making on specific locations, management of interests and divergent values.

Particular attention will be paid to the use of scientific advice and use of argumentation and to how citizens are involved in deliberative processes. The methodology chosen for this activity is the documentary analysis and the interview to privileged informants. A detailed analysis of the Environmental Impact Assessment processes of solar and wind power plants will be a central part of this work. This task will be complemented by two other extensive analyzes: an assessment of how the media represents renewable energy and solar and wind farms in particular by collecting and analyzing press articles and interviewing journalists; a study of trends in public opinion on renewable energy, based on data from national and international surveys. At the local level, this research will consist of six case studies in localities close to wind farms (4 locations) and solar power stations (2 locations), chosen according to the data gathered in the previous steps, seeking to ensure geographic diversity and local characteristics .

The case studies will focus on the socio-economic effects of solar and wind power plants; perceptions and behaviors of local communities in the face of social and economic advantages and disadvantages, environmental and health risks, landscape and land use transformations, representations of technology and renewable energies; tensions and conflicts, as well as in negotiations and compromises woven between local actors; in the interactions between citizens and experts, analyzing the dialogue and exchanges between different types of knowledge. The rural context in which most energy production facilities are situated is also an important factor to take into account: solar and wind farms can be seen either as a “technological solution” to the economic crisis and unemployment or a ” technological macula “that comes to disfigure ancestral landscapes and endanger the nature of tourism.

The methodology used in this stage will include documental analysis, interviews, ethnographic observation and workshops with local actors. Despite having a national focus, this research will seek to draw comparisons with other European countries regarding policies, media representations, public opinion trends and the conduct of controversies. The overall purpose of the project is to produce scientifically sustained but also socially relevant knowledge that provides information that can be used to improve relations between science and society and to promote citizen participation in sociotechnical decision making.

Associated Publications: 

Análise das representações das energias renováveis em blogues

Construção Mediática das Energias Renováveis: as centrais eólicas e solares de 2001 a 2013

A Investigação em Energias Renováveis (Slides)

A investigação em Energias Renováveis (Communication)

Ambiente, Paisagem, Património e Economia: Os conflitos em torno de parques eólicos em Portugal

Bibliografia sobre Energias Renováveis (Eólica e Solar)

Consensos e Controvérsias Sociotécnicas sobre Energias Renováveis

Energias Renováveis e Desenvolvimento Local: a Central Fotovoltaica de Amareleja

R&D on renewable energies: between science, society and economic application

Renewable energy controversies: entanglements between policy, environment, economics and public opinion

Solar energy, innovation and community resilience: the case of Amareleja (Portugal)

Strong political agenda-setting and weakening journalism? The case of renewable energy coverage in Portugal

Tecnologia e identidade local: uma central solar no Alentejo

Technological blots on the landscape: renewable energy production versus nature and culture

VÊ MOINHOS? SÃO MOINHOS. Análise dos discursos sobre turbinas eólicas em Alvaiázere

Windmills and mirrors: living in the vicinity of windfarms and solar power stations

A blot on the landscape: consensus and controversies on wind farms in rural areas (Slides)

A Blot on the Landscape: Consensus and Controversies on Wind Farms in Rural Portugal

Discursos técnico-científicos sobre energias renováveis em Portugal (Communication)

Discurso técnico-científicos sobre energias renováveis em Portugal  (Slides)

Public Opinion on Renewable Energy: a review of trends

Socio-technical consensus and controversies about renewable energy

Estudo de caso exploratório: Sortelha