Energy production is a contested field. With Oil and Gas companies defending their fossil sources, which however are devastating the planet, so it is not sustainable. It is imperative for policy makers and environmental activists to convince the public of more sustainable methods of production. Changing the public’s minds is a door-opener in democracies, because ultimately only they can create the pressures necessary for long-term change. This is why we are proposing additional alternative methods of persuading people to rethink energy productions.
Renewable Energy has in recent years become a central part of our all lives. This might surprise, since renewable energy statistically covers only a fraction of the global energy production, with oil, coal and gas still dominating. With man made climate change already in effect, scientists, environmentalists, governments and wide ranges of the public and private in the West alike have come to the conclusion, that something has to be changed. The direction hereby is quite clear: Sustainable, renewable energy is the only alternative. But there is also the political obstacle, in that policy is the only way forward, putting political problems at the core of the issue of change.
Research is predominantly centred in the European Union, the UK and the United States, who constitute major players in researching and testing new technologies, and in educating the public through campaigns. This is also a very competitive market, with many projects running at the same time, start ups appearing and vanish again, ideas pop up, prototypes tested, and sometimes successes achieved, while in some cases those innovations get forgotten.
With actual change depending on the perception of the people, tackling negative associations with renewable energy is part of this endeavour. Researchers face the question of how to redefine the public’s understanding of the infrastructures that support our lives. Renewable energy infrastructures often appear vastly different from conventional energy infrastructures. Wind turbines and solar panels occupy landscapes, sometimes only slightly, while sometimes jarring. However those new infrastructures seem foreign to people’s collective perception. They are ‘alien’ in the sense that they are unfamiliar, new and strange to us. This can lead to misconceptions and negative attitudes, that policy makers have to target.
Examples of how do we sway the public opinion then towards appreciating the importance of considering the role of renewable energy are constantly being developed. Watts and Winthereik employ a new approach: They envisioned the “Energy Walk”, a journey throughout a Danish coastal village accompanied by a walking stick and a set of headphones. One journeys through infrastructure whilst listening to the audio recordings played the equipment explaining ones surroundings and shedding light onto the invisible or alien. This is framed as an aesthetic experience: it asks the participant consider various things they encounter related to energy and infrastructures along the way, and to consider their past, future and alternatives.
On the other hand, neglected projects on the islands of Orkney serves as warning to forgetting existing infrastructure and technology. As Watts writes on her blog, Orkney, an Island-chain at the North east end of Scotland, has in the last couple of years been a hub for research and development of water and wind energy projects alike. While it’s rough, windy and wavy climate supports the creation of energy, sadly Orkneys electricity grid is separate from that of the mainland. This means energy created on the lies stays trapped there.
There is another factor of waste at play here. It is necessary to remember the strides that have been made in renewable energy technologies. Orkney has served as a testing site for smart grid technology research for almost a decade. Despite that, the UK National Infrastructure Commission proposes the development and linking of technologies abroad, that already have been prototyped at Orkney. Instead of consigning “old” technologies to oblivion, it would be more sensible to build on top of them. In order to stay efficient one should not overlook prior investments and successes.
The reason these projects are being neglected again is lacking public awareness. With more consciousness towards these, the UK Government would be reminded to include those. This is one of the reasons, that Watts and others released a poetic book called ‘ebban an’ flowan’, that thematises Orkney and it’s projects.
As demonstrated above, changing public perception of renewable energy, and it’s visible counterparts, the infrastructure is necessary to enable policy changes that favour renewable energy technologies. This usually leads to educational campaigns, and other integrations of ‘renewable energy’ as topic into the everyday life of citizens, but artistic works like exhibitions and books can also do their part, and their effect on the public should not be underestimated.