Reaching the potential of renewable energy and development

The energy transition is bringing renewable energy in increased speed, but how do we make sure the transition brings development to communities?

August 28, 2019

Around the world, companies and governments are developing wind and solar projects, as well as other renewable energy schemes at an increasing pace. However, while greenhouse gas mitigation and energy security are strong drivers for these investments, large-scale renewable energy projects do not automatically benefit everyone, and are not necessarily welcomed by all.

In a number of countries – including Denmark – large-scale wind- and solar power schemes sometimes face opposition by citizens who feel they do not benefit from them or dislike their local impacts.

“The heart of the energy transition lies with engaging communities. With strong community support, we can overcome most other barriers,” says Holle Wlokas, a researcher from Stellenbosch University, South Africa who has worked with community engagement in renewable energy projects in South Africa.

Linking development and energy production

This raises important questions: How can renewable energies be developed in a way that is inclusive and economically fair, and what can companies, governments and civil society do to ensure this?

UNEP DTU Partnership, The Danish Institute for International Studies, Stellenbosch University and other partners in the TENTRANS project held a seminar this week addressing these questions by sharing and discussing international experiences on the involvement and engagement of citizens and communities in wind power projects.

During the seminar Holle Wlokas talked about the experiences from South Africa on how projects effectively or not engage with local people and organisations.
South Africa is currently implementing the worldwide largest renewable energy procurement programme which includes over 30 large-scale wind projects, and it is this programme and its developmental impact that Holle Wlokas and the rest of the team of researchers in TENTRANS analyses.

A key message from the seminar was the need to link community development with energy production, if we are to reach the global climate goals.

“Renewable energy projects can have a broad range of benefits for communities, especially if they can leverage asset or land ownership. We need to ensure that projects meaningfully include local communities and are responsive to their development priorities, to have their support. This is critical to realise the scale and pace of renewable energy deployment needed to reach the goals in the Paris Agreement,” Holle Wlokas said after the seminar.

A video of the seminar and following debate can be watched here.


The seminar also presented cases of successful community engagement from Scotland, Ireland and Denmark, highlighting approaches that integrated renewable energy production with community involvement and support.

The TENTRANS projects is a joint project where UNEP DTU Partnership is collaborating with DTU Wind, the Danish Institute for International Studies, University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University, Wind Denmark (DWIA) and the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) in looking at how large scale renewable energy projects can foster broader developmental objectives.