ESRC Early Career Honor Recognizes Researcher Examining Renewable Energy Policies

Wind turbines seen across the Eaglesham moor at Scotland's Whitelee Wind Farm.
Wind turbines seen across the Eaglesham moor at Scotland’s Whitelee Wind Farm.
Rebecca Windemer
Rebecca Windemer

Rebecca Windemer, a lecturer at the University of the West of England who studies renewable energy amid the communities where it is generated, received the Economic and Social Research Council’s 2021 Celebrating Impact Prize for the Outstanding Early Career Impact.

The Celebrating Impact competition recognizes and rewards researchers who have achieved impact through outstanding research, knowledge exchange activities, collaborative partnerships, and engagement with different communities – and who received funding from Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council. Winners were announced late last year.

Since it was established nine years ago, the Celebrating Impact Prize has highlighted and recognized some of the ways in which ESRC-funded research impacts the economy and society. The awards for 2021 especially reflect contributions being made by the social sciences to helping communities and businesses navigate the challenges facing us including recovery from the global pandemic is critical to not only the UK but also globally.

All winners and finalists have demonstrated the impact of their work and illustrated its relevance and importance to society. They are already contributing to policy debates in their specialist areas and their influence will continue in years to come. 

Last year’s prize categories are Outstanding Early Career Impact; Outstanding Business and Enterprise ImpactOutstanding International ImpactOutstanding Public Policy Impact; and Outstanding Societal Impact. Below we highlight the Outstanding Early Career Impact winner.

As part of her research, Windemer analyzed all planning and energy policies relevant to the duration and end of life of onshore wind and solar farms. She also reviewed the planning documents for all applications to repower or extend the duration of the planning consent for existing onshore wind farms in England, Wales and Scotland. She undertook in depth studies at four wind farms and one solar farm involving interviewing developers, planners, local authorities, opposition groups, and communities, and undertook surveys of 710 residents living within 3.5 kilometers of two wind farms.

Research into the 25-year planning consents that regulate the UK’s onshore wind and solar farms has led to policy change in Wales. It has also led to greater guidance for local authorities and the wind industry on end-of-life considerations for onshore renewable energy infrastructure.

Some of the impacts that Windemer’s work has created are:

  • Scottish Government policymakers using Windemer’s research to inform the update of their onshore wind policy
  • Establishing supportive approaches towards onshore renewable energy through greater consideration of the options for ageing infrastructure
  • Increased public awareness of the challenges of time-limited planning consents, of the need for a more detailed planning policy and guidance for end-of life options, and the opportunities for local communities to shape the future of onshore wind and solar farms

“Three main options exist for end of-life sites: first, to extend the planning consent of original infrastructure; second, to repower by replacing existing sites with newer, more efficient infrastructure; or third, to decommission entirely,” says Windemer.

Learn more about decision-making on ageing infrastructure and Windemer’s research:

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Hailey Lanford

Hailey Lanford is a senior at The George Washington University, studying English and linguistics. She is a SAGE global communications intern, Virginia Young Poets in the Community fellow, and enjoys exploring Washington, D.C.

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