A complex array of technological, economic, environmental and social factors can affect the extent and pace of renewable energy deployment. However, also critical is how these technologies are perceived by society. In 2019, global climate strikes and opinion polls revealed rising public demand for a shift away from fossil fuels; at the same time, opposition from local communities limited the implementation of renewable energy projects in some regions. The extent to which renewables gain public supporti and are able to attract adequate private or public investment is a key factor in increasing their deployment. Consideration of the range of reactions related to the public response to renewables can help build support for these technologies and ultimately encourage broader inclusion and participation.
Although the views of local communities are an important factor in the uptake of renewables, they are only one part of a broader condition of social acceptance of renewables that also includes market and socio-political dimensions.1 (→See Figure 61.) Each of these three dimensions can influence the overall acceptability of renewable energy, and each has the potential to stimulate a virtuous or detrimental cycle of support or opposition. Rather than looking at public support for renewables solely through the lens of concepts such as “NIMBYism”ii (→ See Box 1), a more holistic approach includes community engagement, financial measures, political leadership and market confidence.2
Many of the factors that shape the rate and nature of renewable energy uptake depend on local, regional and national contexts. They also include issues such as the availability of renewable resources (such as solar and wind energy), environmental constraints (such as settlement patterns or protected landscapes), political conditions, planning and environmental governance, and procurement and financial arrangements.3 Likewise, the extent and features of public support vary depending on demographics, socio-economic characteristics and the local/national context, which can be influenced by a complex set of issues.4
iFor the purposes of this chapter, “public“ is defined, in most cases, as all citizens/residents and does not include specific private or state energy interests or non-governmental organisations; the public often is distinguished from those most directly affected by energy projects, which are referred to here as “host communities“.i
iiNIMBY (“Not In My Backyard“) and NIMBYism refer to the behaviour of a person or group of people that objects to a development project (such as a renewable energy plant) being built near to where they live. ii