UCC researchers explore public mobilisation and engagement with the energy system

28 Jan 2019

Researchers in UCC's Cleaner Production Promotion Unit are working on a new research project which aims to develop an in-depth understanding of civic mobilisation around energy, with a view to devising recommendations on how public policy and business models can better support inclusive citizen participation, thereby enhancing the social acceptability of the energy transition. The EnergyPOLITIES project is funded by the SEAI National Energy Research Development and Demonstration (RD&D) Funding Programme.

EnergyPOLITIES is led by Dr Niall Dunphy, CPPU Director, whose multi-disciplinary team operates at the intersection of the social sciences with science and engineering conducting research focused on the theme of society, sustainability and energy. The project is supported by a multidisciplinary advisory group comprising Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir (Energy Engineering), Dr Clodagh Harris (Government and Politics), and Dr Ger Mullally (Sociology)

The transition to a decarbonised energy system – a central objective of public policy – involves a new role for citizens. There is a growing awareness among both academics and policymakers that the transition away from an energy system based on fossil fuels will involve more than just switching energy sources. Established highly centralised models of energy generation and distribution will be challenged with consumers being asked to play a more active role in managing their own energy usage Public consent and moreover participation (in one form or another) will be required for the successful roll-out of renewable energy and associated infrastructure necessary for the move away from fossil fuels. It is increasingly clear that successful energy transitions require citizens to embrace them as something of which they are a part, rather than having these changes imposed upon them externally. This in turn requires modes of governance which are inclusive and participatory, and which allow all citizens to become full stakeholders in the transition and share in its benefits.

This new project applies a novel methodology to analyse three examples of energy projects which have stimulated substantial social mobilisation. The project will examine the experiences of two Irish case studies (Corrib gas pipeline, Grid Link grid extension) and an European community-based energy project. The research aims to develop an understanding of how community engagement with energy projects is shaped by governance frameworks, organisational formats, and mechanisms for public participation and consultation. Public consultation processes, planning systems, the structure of local government, regulatory frameworks, and patterns of ownership and control will be analysed to identify factors which facilitate or hinder citizen participation and the social acceptability of renewable infrastructure projects.

Through this research, the project will explore the factors driving the social acceptability of energy projects, with a focus on how governance frameworks and organisational formats can enhance or restrict citizen participation and shape perceptions of procedural and distributional justice.

For more on this story contact:

Niall Dunphy by email at or by telephone on +353 21 4902521

EnergyPOLITIES is a research project, funded by the SEAI RD&D, based in the Cleaner Production Promotion Unit, a research centre of the School of Engineering, and Environmental Research Institute, University College Cork,