Dr Rebecca Windemer, Lecturer in Environmental Planning and Design, last week won the Outstanding Early Career Impact award as part of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Celebrating Impact Prize 2021 for her research on “Influencing policy and debate on end-of-life considerations for onshore renewables”.
The ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize, now in its ninth year, is an annual opportunity to recognise and celebrate the success of ESRC-funded researchers in achieving and enabling outstanding economic or societal impact from excellent research.
Rebecca’s research into the 25-year planning consents that regulate the UK’s onshore wind and solar farms has led to policy change in Wales, greater guidance for local authorities and the wind industry on end-of-life considerations for onshore renewable energy infrastructure, and increased community awareness of the potential to influence the future of local wind and solar sites.
In the context of a global transition to decarbonise the energy system and meet NetZero targets, expanding energy output from renewables is increasingly important. However, space for renewable energy infrastructure is limited and existing wind farms are beginning to reach the end of their operational or consent life. Given tightening planning and land restrictions, keeping consented infrastructure in place is likely to form a key part of ensuring that renewable energy targets are met. There is also potential to significantly increase the energy generated from existing sites through repowering (replacing existing infrastructure with new). However, the context of existing sites and the opinions of local communities may have changed over time. There is thus a need to consider how we make decisions about the future of our existing onshore renewable energy sites, including how local communities are involved in such decisions.
Rebecca commented: “I am delighted to have won this award for my work on planning for the future of onshore renewable energy sites. As our existing wind farms are reaching the end of their planning consent there is an urgent need to consider how we make decisions about their future. These decisions are not straightforward as both the sites and the opinions of communities living close to wind farms may have changed over time.
Directly responding to this challenge, I have used my research findings to help develop planning policy in this area. I have also shared my research findings with the renewable energy industry, emphasising the importance of considering communities over the life of energy developments, rather than only during planning applications. The funding that I have received from this award will be used to further generate such policy and behavioural change, both locally and internationally.”