The East of England has been the centre of one of the world’s most productive energy industries for the last five decades. It has a well-established “all energy” base that embraces oil, gas, nuclear power and renewables amongst other technologies and national grid upgrades.

 

With the recent reclassification of nuclear power to a renewable source of energy, we wanted to open the discussion on renewable energy and the opportunities within the energy sector.

 

Public Attitudes

We hosted an industry roundtable to share the findings from our Attitudes to Renewable Energy report – focussing on bringing the public on the UK’s journey to renewable energy and future opportunities for the sector.

We, in partnership with key industry leaders on the East Coast, explored opportunities to increase community support for renewable energy projects.

Crunching the numbers

We found only 6% of those surveyed knew around (41% of the UK’s energy came from renewables in 2022.

And when it comes to understanding individual types of renewable energy, there are huge gaps in public perception.

For example, only 23% of those surveyed stated hydrogen as a form of renewable energy while only 16% of those surveyed believe nuclear power is renewable.

There are positive signs too. More than half the people we spoke to said they were interested in understanding where their energy comes from (52%).

 

Unravelling the themes discussed

Two main themes emerged from the conversation:

  • Collaboration – there is a need for continued and greater collaboration within the industry.
  • Awareness and community benefit – it is important to raise awareness of careers in the sector and increase the focus on the benefits and social impact of a project.

The desire for continued and greater collaboration across the industry was clear. This is needed both to build projects and raise awareness of the benefits to local communities.

Alongside the benefits to communities and decarbonisation, participants stressed the importance of raising awareness of careers in the sector.

We concluded communications should focus on the community benefits and social impact throughout a project’s lifetime.

With 56% of people we surveyed saying they would be supportive of developers who invested in the local community, it was great to see social impact was front and centre of people’s minds.

 

Greater collaboration at all stages of a project

Roundtable participants highlighted great collaboration already happening in the region, but suggested there is room for closer partnerships, especially at a larger scale.

This is essential throughout the project life cycle to manage the growing number of projects and making sure projects have the resources they need.

 

Using the power of education to raise awareness

Participants also discussed the importance of raising awareness of renewable energy beyond local projects.

Our research found 22% of people were keen to learn more about how energy projects can support training and upskilling.

This sparked a conversation about how we can engage with the community to showcase career opportunities; whether that be through school engagement, attending careers fairs or community drop in events, there is a need to reach young people from primary school level to those in further education.

 

Generating social impact now

The final important takeaway from the event was the demand for projects to provide real value to impacted communities now.

Everyone at the roundtable agreed the industry needs to do more to engage communities and provide meaningful support with lasting impact. Legacy is important and so is being a trusted and responsible neighbour to communities.

We need to inspire younger generations on the benefits of renewable energy and to consider a STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) career within the growing industry.

This extends to supporting people of all ages, education levels and backgrounds to embark on a renewable energy career. This could especially support those from the communities most impacted by these types of projects, which historically tend to be more rural.

 

A final thought

Early engagement on projects within communities is important. Even at the DCO (Development Consenting Order) stage, projects should be communicating with communities to eliminate the fear of the unknown.

As more renewable projects are established across the UK the industry will have to work to increase the understanding of the benefits and combat the often erroneous objections raised both in national media and on a more local level..

We will continue our research in this area and look forward to our next energy roundtable in Scotland planned for later this year.

 

At Copper, we help our clients make connections and nurture partnerships between developers, contractors, and impacted communities. Providing early engagement on projects, highlighting the benefits, even at DCO stage is always a focus for us.

Do you need help with local insight gathering, developing social value strategies or community engagement? If so, email phoebe.sullivan@copperconsultancy.com