It is recognised that generating energy through renewable sources, as with offshore wind farms (OWF), is vital for society’s future.
The Scottish Government acknowledges this and has set targets of at least 30% of overall energy demand to be from renewable sources by 2020. Energy generated through local renewable sources also has a global impact – it strengthens the security of supplies at local level by reducing reliance on imported energy and also reduces the use of energy derived from fossil fuels, thus contributing to mitigating global climate change.
In addition to societal impacts, renewable energy generation is seen as providing economic opportunities through job creation and bringing inward investment. To date, the policy of the key economic development agencies in the North-east of Scotland has been generally one of diversification away from an overreliance on oil and gas; such a policy can be traced back to 1990 and the setting up of ‘Aberdeen Beyond 2000’ initiative. Successive administrations and agencies have pursued this policy and the EOWDC aims to cement its role in renewable offshore development, further positioning Aberdeen as the energy capital of Europe and a world energy centre.
Yet, although many societal and economic (socio-economic) benefits are stated, what the actual impacts are on the economy and communities near to OWF have never been explored. This is the aim of the project being undertaken by researchers from Oxford Brookes University.
Beginning in June 2017 and ending in October 2019, the project will:
- Explore the methods used to predict the likely socio-economic impacts of OWF before permission is given for the scheme to go ahead;
- Assess how valid the prediction methods are by gathering data of the impacts during the construction and initial operation phases of OWF schemes;
- Enhance the current understanding of the potential social and well-being impacts on communities of OWF and identify good practice methods to assess the impacts;
- Highlight best practice in how to maximise local socio-economic benefits from OWF.
To achieve these aims, the EOWDC will be explored in detail plus two other schemes (Beatrice OWF in Moray Firth and Hornsea OWF off the English east coast). Reports produced for other OWF in Scotland and England and selected European countries will also be studied during the project lifecycle.
Dr Bridget Durning said: “We are very excited about undertaking this project which will research something that has not been explored before in detail. This is to look at the social and economic impacts on communities that exist close to offshore windfarms.
“Our project brings together two strands of our research which is our established work on evaluating the socio-economic impacts of major energy infrastructure with recent work on the cumulative impact of offshore wind farms. We will look at three UK wide case studies and this comparative aspect will help with recognising influential factors on impact variation and importantly the methods for impact prediction and assessment. We will also be developing an overview of practice in other countries such as the Netherlands, Germany or Denmark to see if there are ‘learning’ points we can take from them.”