Shaping sustainable energy landscapes: The need for and elaboration of a narrative design approach (PhD research Renée de Waal)

Shaping sustainable energy landscapes: The need for and elaboration of a narrative design approach
PhD research Renée de Waal
In my PhD research, I look at sustainable energy transition from a landscape architecture perspective. Sustainable energy transition is defined as the shift from fossil to sustainable energy systems and characterized by renewable energy sources and efficient energy use. The transition process requires adjustments in spatial arrangement and land use, as such impacting the landscape. The mutual relationship between (renewable) energy and space makes landscape architecture a relevant discipline for the planning and design of sustainable energy landscapes.
Sustainable energy landscapes are defined as “physical environments that can evolve on the basis of locally available renewable energy sources without compromising landscape quality, biodiversity, food production and other life-supporting ecosystem services”.[1] However, we witness public resistance to renewable energy technologies (RET) which is, among others, due to landscape considerations. Literature proposes that there is a “possibility that, by emphasizing the underlying narrative of ingenuity in rising to the challenge of sustainable development, we can learn to see beauty and attractiveness in emerging landscapes of carbon neutrality.” [2] Therefore, my interest is in the niche for landscape architecture in sustainable energy transition, and especially how a narrative approach can help creating meaningful sustainable energy landscapes.
In order to do so, I reflect on two successful renewable energy transitions in Europe (the Danish island of Samsø and the town of Güssing in Austria) from a transition management and landscape architecture perspective. Next, I look at landscape architecture practice by analyzing the 36 entries for the Dutch Eo Wijers competition for regional design (2011-2012), in which renewable energy was one of the subjects. Based on the competition entries and interviews, I analyze which narratives the participants used in the planning and design of energy landscapes and how these narratives were conveyed. By observing the competition process and interviewing stakeholders, I study the persuasiveness of the use of narratives to indicate how fruitful such a narrative approach can be for the design of sustainable energy landscapes.
The scope of the research is the Netherlands. The research builds further on (PhD) research in- and outside the chair group [3]. See also for an extensive overview of activities of the Landscape Architecture Group around the planning and design of sustainable energy landscapes.

[1] Stremke, S. and A. van den Dobbelsteen (eds) 2012. Sustainable Energy Landscapes. Design, Planning, and Development. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis Group.
[2] Selman, P. 2010. Learning to Love the Landscapes of Carbon-Neutrality. Landscape Research, 35 (2) 157–171.
[3] See for instance Stremke. S. 2010. Designing Sustainable Energy Landscapes. Concepts, principles and procedures. Wageningen: Wageningen University.

July 2013
Renée de Waal
Wageningen University