The first EPRC webinar of the 2023 Autumn semester was held on 11 October (11:00 – 12:00 UK) over Zoom. Dr Christian Calvillo Muñoz (Centre for Energy Policy, University of Strathclyde) presented on “Community Engagement in Energy Projects in the Orkney Islands”, providing findings from the British Academy-funded research project “Big projects, little community benefit? How low carbon pilot projects help to tackle fuel and transport poverty in island communities”.
Scottish islands have been identified as potential hubs for renewable energy production, as they have continuously participated in sustainable energy and environmental management projects and networks. Orkney in particular has become a European leader in the testing and application of new energy technologies. However, the level of fuel and transport poverty on the islands remains high. This raises questions about the translatable benefits on communities in a context of increased cost of living and relates to post-Brexit debates as Orkney has significantly relied on EU funds, especially concerning its energy transition.
The project conducted community workshops in Orkney, aiming to examine the impact of low-carbon projects in Orkney, by assessing the effectiveness of existing government-funded projects and analysing community perception and engagement, lessons and good practice. Findings suggest that a lot of innovative low-carbon work is being developed in Orkney, and the tight-knit community of the islands has led to high levels of awareness and interest. However, there are still limited levels of meaningful engagement with projects, given issues of accessibility, relevance of the project for the community, lack of direct benefits, and a lack of developmental or continuous engagement throughout the several project phases.
The webinar also included discussant Helen Heinz (Nottingham Trent University), an Early Stage Researcher in the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Smart-BEEjS project, who provided some insights from her PhD research on the notions of attractiveness, roles and responsibilities in low carbon innovative projects. In particular, she explored how community engagement could be made attractive to both the community and investors, finding that there is a potential to address local challenges, increase transparency, ensure project longevity and profitability, and decrease risks and uncertainties.
Dr Christian Calvillo is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Energy Policy, University of Strathclyde, working on several projects in different energy areas, including electrification of transport and heat, energy efficiency, fuel poverty, hydrogen and industrial decarbonisation. He did his PhD studies as part of the Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate programme on Sustainable Energies Technologies and Strategies (SETS), hosted by Comillas Pontifical University, Spain; Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands; and the Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden. Christian’s research interests include energy system modelling, decarbonisation scenario analysis, industrial decarbonisation, CCUS, renewable energy integration, fuel and transport poverty, and economic and policy analysis.
Helen Heinz is doing her PhD at Nottingham Business School on the attractiveness of community microgrids for future energy communities and investors in the context of geographical Islands. She is convinced that the energy sector needs a diversity of thinking to create technology and business solutions based on local needs and perceptions; thus, addressing the complexity of ‘local’ energy transitions. Helen has worked for several research institutes, namely Fraunhofer ISE and IWES, for the Institute of Technology Canary Islands, but also in industry. Throughout her career, she focused on learning from different sectors and countries. Now, she combines her interdisciplinary knowledge and experiences to accelerate business innovation aligned with community engagement and provide policy recommendations to accelerate the just energy transition.
Future EPRC webinars will delve into sustainability, regional policy and development topics.
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