As countries worldwide strive to decarbonise their primary energy usage, the demand for electricity is growing rapidly. The International Energy Agency says that global electricity demand will grow by 2,500 terawatt hours (TWh) between 2023 and 2025. This is a 9% growth that would take annual global electricity demand to 29,281TWh. To ensure that this increased demand will not have an accompanying rise in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, government policy is aiming to make sure this demand is met with non-fossil-fuel energy sources. To put this in context, the International Energy Agency estimated the total energy consumption in the world in 2019 to be equivalent to 161,111 TWh - see the breakdown below. Going forward much of this needs to move across to electricity.
2019 share of world total final consumption by source (418EJ = 161,111 TWh). Source: IEA, Paris, 2021
This means there will be an increasing pressure for the roll-out of many more renewable energy projects. However, we find ourselves in a situation where already many developments - e.g., onshore wind farms - are being refused planning permission after the impacted community oppose the project.
In some cases, projects are being developed in a way that is causing significant damage to community social cohesion for a variety of reasons. This is undermining community trust that the renewable-energy transition is being done with everyone’s best interest at heart which leads to the aforementioned opposition.
The poor-practice that results in this erosion of trust tends to happen despite some people's best intentions - over-zealous renewable energy developers underestimating the crucial importance of integrating the ethos of earning of local support into their core company thinking.
As previous projects have taken many of the wide-open-space sites, new projects are encroaching more and more into communities and so will need to be designed in a way that will earn local support if they are to be successful. Poor projects need to be stopped early on to avoid unnecessary local stress. Project proponents need to integrate earning local support into their business model and project design at a seniority level equal to financial success, technical feasibility, and legal considerations. It is in everyone's interest that only projects that are good for both investors and for local sustainable development progress.
This can seem overwhelming for project development teams, and indeed for potential host communities, as it requires a new skill set and a change in mentality from the status quo. Yet more and more developers are asking how they can update and improve their status quo in order to gain a stronger social licence to operate for their projects. To successfully make this transition, ELSA helps both developers and host communities integrate the required new skill set and mentality into the current best-practice project development.
The role of the Earning Local Support Academy (ELSA) is to enable the integration of the knowledge, experience and mindset required to earn local support for a project into its initial design: to enable projects wanted by investors and host communities alike. This avoids the waste and stress of unwanted projects. We all need to up our game to achieve - in the words of Stephen Covey in the ‘7 habits of highly effective people’ - “win-win or no deal”.
ELSA supports developers, host communities, and indeed relevant authorities, to work together with their stakeholders to co-design projects that meet all relevant needs.
The creation of ELSA is being led and facilitated by AstonECO, peer reviewed by Galway University and is supported with up to 80% financial contribution from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland under the SEAI Research, Development & Demonstration (RD&D) Funding Programme 2022, # 22/RDD/874