Peer reviewed paper: The life and death of good intentions?

Posted by on July 2, 2024 in Homepage, Project, Publications, Research

Recently, Merel Enserink together with Rudi van Etteger and Sven Stremke published their research on participatory design processes for solar power plants in the journal Energy Research & Social Science. The paper builds on the experiences from the EnergietuinenNL (in English ‘Energy Gardens’).

As embedded designers/researchers, we gathered data on the interactions in the participatory design processes in three pilot projects in The Netherlands. Our results show that these processes currently benefit local inhabitants and experts (where they partake), which contributes to procedural justice. However, we also found that individual priorities at the project level do not always align with broader societal concerns, such as biodiversity or landscape quality. Spatial measures addressing these broader societal concerns are more easily downsized or removed in the participatory design process. We provide recommendations for policy to ensure a better balance between stakeholder groups participating and their abilities to affect decisions.

Image: Stakeholders visit one of the sites in the EnergieTuinenNL project (photograph by Rudi van Etteger)


Public participation in renewable energy projects is required in The Netherlands, as it is key to a socially just energy transition which embraces local and societal concerns. Participatory design processes can address the call for public participation and achieve qualitative aims stated in policy guidelines. However, todays permit procedures of local authorities focus on technical and economic factors, while other societal concerns seem to disappear in the development process of solar power plants (SPPs). In this study, we unravel the participatory design processes of three Dutch cases to explore their benefits and limitations, and implications for future policies. We find that local inhabitants have a strong position in these processes. Moreover, we find an imbalance of proposed measures materializing in the final design. Although there is attention for societal concerns beyond those of the local inhabitants, measures that address societal concerns are more frequently altered or removed. This is mainly due to economic factors and a conventional approach to SPP development as monofunctional land-use. Based on our research, we argue for redressing the balance between the concerns of local inhabitants, such as nuisance, and broader societal concerns, such as biodiversity and landscape quality. We recommend improving policy, or directly changing subsidy requirements, to ensure a better balance of involved stakeholder groups and their possibilities to participate and affect the decision-making in SPP design processes. This would foster trajectories towards more environmental sustainable and socially just deployment of renewable energy technologies for the energy transition.

Reference: Enserink, M., Van Etteger, R., Stremke, S., (2024) The life and death of good intentions? Unravelling participatory design processes in three Dutch solar power plants. Energy Research & Social Science 114 (2024) 103620.

You can access the paper here (open access).

We like to acknowledge the project partners from the EnergietuinenNL, that allowed us to use the data from the participatory design processes.