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What our research tells us about the relationship between climate change and social acceptance for wind farms

14 Mar, 2024

Do climate change concerns influence social acceptance for wind farms? Keep reading to explore what we found out when we surveyed thousands of Europeans on issues such as proximity of wind farms, and willingness to pay for clean energy.

In 2023, our planet experienced its hottest year since records began ‘by a huge margin’ (WMO).

As each month came, records tumbled. Behind the sometimes abstract numbers were very real consequences: wild-fires, floods, devastated harvests, droughts, and fatal heatwaves to name just the tip of the iceberg.  

Climate change, accelerated aggressively by the sourcing and use of fossil fuels, shows no sign of abating. In fact, as most global scientists agree, the pace of this change is only accelerating (the Guardian).

We have the solutions, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy

Renewable energy harnesses the fundamental energies of our planet – wind, water, sun – and turns them into power that chargers our phones, computers and cars, heats our homes and powers industries.  

The good news is that the world is getting pretty good at developing these technologies. So good, in fact, that by 2050 (as predicted by Statkraft’s Low Emissions Scenario) wind and solar alone will cover 70% of the energy needs for certain regions. 

Man and woman looking at computer

But, there’s a ‘but’… 

But to reach that number will not be an easy task. Because where and how renewable energies are developed is an understandably charged issue. It hinges acutely on our deep, almost ineffable emotional and psychological relationship with our lands, our communities, and in some cases our actual homes. That burning topic is neatly wrapped up in the term ‘social acceptance’. 

Recently, I set out to assess whether people’s climate change concerns have any impact on social acceptance for wind power farms by surveying thousands of Europeans.  

Below are three of the most telling findings of that research. 

Three things we learned about climate change concerns and social acceptance for wind farms

1. Willingness to pay for clean energy

61% of those “Very worried” by climate change were a little or much more willing to pay for clean energy. This is in contrast to just 23% of those in the “not worried at all” bracket, a difference of almost 40%.

2. Believe wind power to be a clean source of energy

93% of those “Very worried” about climate changed were in favour, while just 7% of those “Not worried” agreed.

3. Willingness to accept a wind farm within 5 km of their residence

58% of those “very worried” about climate change were either happy or very happy, compared to just 30% of those who are “not worried at all”. In fact, in the case of those “not worried at all” 37% would be either unhappy or very unhappy with this.

So, what next?

So, what does this research tell us, and what can we do with it?

I believe it shows that yes, climate change awareness plays a significant role in shaping social acceptance for renewables and the energy transition. Ultimately, though, it also tells us that we cannot rely on that motivation alone.  

The onus continues to be on the renewable industry, authorities and our partners to not just tell, but to show and deliver the tangible benefits of wind and renewable energies for societies and communities in Europe, and beyond.  

That’s a challenge I readily embrace. 


Author: Orlando San Martin, Head Advisor and Team Leader, Sustainability

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