How can companies and government agencies best involve citizens and local communities ahead of the construction of large green energy plants? The research project titled 'The Danish Model for Citizen Engagement in the Renewable Energy Transition' (DART) is aiming to tackle this question. DBI (The Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology) is participating, with a focus on safety.
The green transition needs a boost. Denmark is investing billions in renewable energy and Power-to-X plants, which convert green electricity into transportable and flexible forms of energy such as hydrogen, ammonia and methanol.
But the expansion of carbon-neutral energy production can bring about local resistance when large plants need to be built around the country. The research project 'The Danish Model for Citizen Engagement in the Renewable Energy Transition' (DART) aims to meet this challenge. The goal is to develop tangible models for how companies and government agencies can better involve citizens and local communities in the green transition of energy production. Researchers estimate that local resistance is currently putting a stop to 10–15% of green energy projects. The DART project is therefore very much about preventing unnecessary conflicts and delays.
“This is an important project, because if we’re to succeed with the green transition, it’s not enough for us to just control the technological solutions. We also need to be in control of how these solutions interact with all the people who are going to be part of them,” says Mette Marie Vad Karsten, Lead Anthropologist and PhD at DBI. She continues:
“At the same time, the fact that this is a new way of producing green energy provides an ideal opportunity to rethink the entire concept of citizen involvement and the democratic process surrounding it.”
The project has three parts: an anthropological one, a political one and a legal one.
“The anthropological part will involve carrying out field work to study what goes wrong and why, when green energy projects encounter local resistance. The political part will be taking a look at whether citizen involvement can be organised differently and better. For example, whether you should have a local citizens’ assembly for climate issues. And then there’s the legal part, which will be considering matters such as whether there’s legislation that unintentionally creates obstacles to the reduction of local resistance. There could, for example, be an opportunity for citizens to receive a share of the green energy that is to be produced in the local area.”
DBI is participating in all three parts of the project from a safety perspective.
“With regard to the anthropological part of the project and the field work, it’s about to what extent citizens have concerns and questions about safety. There’s actually minimal knowledge, both in Denmark and abroad, when it comes to the production of hydrogen, for example. Yet there’s a lot of research that shows that safety concerns can be crucial to whether people think a project is a good or a bad idea. We know that safety matters, but not how it matters,” says Mette Marie Vad Karsten, adding:
“Safety concerns can also be a side-effect of the way the process is handled. If people feel that a project is being rolled out without their voices being heard, experience has shown that this creates resistance. The logic is: ‘How can I trust that the safety is in order, when the process itself isn’t?’ ”
This brings Marie Vad Karsten to the political part, and the way in which citizens are involved in the process.
“Should we talk more about safety, for example, and if so, how do we do that? How do you inform people about toxic ammonia and flammable hydrogen without scaring them?
In the legal area, DBI has extensive experience of regulatory work and guidelines, so we can also contribute there. All things being equal, minimum requirements and standards make it easier for parties to talk to each other,” explains Mette Marie Vad Karsten.
According to her, it is ideal in many ways that DBI is participating in the DART project, which encompasses the production of the green fuels, their transport and storage, as well as their end use, where DBI has knowledge of the middle section of the value chain in particular.
“Last, but not least, this is a project that fits in well with DBI’s role as a GTS institute (approved Research and Technology Organisation). We can disseminate the project’s research to companies that work with Power-to-X, and we can incorporate their experiences and concerns into the project, thus building bridges,” says Mette Marie Vad Karsten.
The project 'The Danish Model for Citizen Engagement in the Renewable Energy Transition' (DART) has received co-funding of DKK 7.5 million from Innovation Fund Denmark’s Grand Solutions programme and is being led by the Department of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen, in collaboration with the Department of Political Science and the Faculty of Law.
The project involves the companies Høst, Fjord and European Energy, which work with Power-to-X and other green energy projects. Also participating are Behave Green, the Danish Center for Energy Storage, DBI and the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping.
The project will run from 2023 to 2026 and is an extension of a project already initiated in the national MissionGreenFuels partnership on local community involvement in the energy area.