Wind Energy on the North Sea
Responsible innovation in offshore wind energy requires taking moral values into account in the design phase. As a first step towards such ‘value sensitive design’ this short project developed a theoretical framework to identify relevant moral values and possible value conflicts. This framework invites reflection on both technological and institutional design. It distinguishes between three perspectives on acceptability. Previous problems with the acceptance of wind parks made industrial partners eager to join the project.
By reviewing the literature, holding workshops with stakeholders and interviews, the researchers developed a general framework how to relate moral values to offshore wind energy in the North Sea. They also discuss possible value conflicts that might occur, depending on the design choices that are made. For example, the development of a super grid in the North Sea builds on the idea of designing a technically efficient network even across national boundaries. This might conflict with the value of distributive justice because international cooperation in wind farms might be more oriented toward economic profitability than societal expectations about a fair distribution of local costs and benefits.
Based on identified value conflicts, the researchers argue that making trade-offs between different values may be unavoidable. But these trade-offs can now be made deliberately, and debated with stakeholders. In some cases, however, a process of value sensitive design leads to new and innovative solutions that enable to realise both values at the same time or to a large degree. This was showed to be at the Oosterscheldekering (see box).
The project extended the application of value-sensitive design to include the design of institutions (such as regulations). Offshore wind farms are not just a collection of turbines, but best conceived as complex social-technical systems. The project also investigated the possibilities for synergy with competing usages of the sea, such as gas platforms and algae farming. For example, wind farms could be delivering energy to the platforms. And algae farming might take place in between wind mills. This makes the design challenge even more complicated, but also provides new opportunities to add value.
The project led to a framework to identify value conflicts with stakeholders. With respect to the design of the wind energy technology, the researchers made a distinction between the level of components, sub-systems and the system as a whole. The design of institutions can take place at the local/regional, national and international level (see figure with the full framework). Acceptability can be considered from the perspective of the market, the local community and the public at large.
In this project the researchers actively collaborated with a range of parties promoting offshore wind energy. The Top Consortium ‘Knowledge and Innovation Offshore Wind’ (TKI Wind op Zee) eagerly joined this project, and so did for example the Netherlands Wind Energy Association and companies such as Eneco and Siemens.
Why this enthusiasm? Ernst van Zuijlen of TKI Wind op Zee admits that the industrial partners did not participate out of a sense of idealism, but from a clear self-interest. Since the late 1980s wind turbines on land have become the object of an ongoing battle between turbine owners and fierce opponents. This was a false start in the sector's opinion.
Offshore wind energy offer the industry a new chance. The sector now aims to take moral values into account in an early stage and embed them in the design of the offshore wind system. Ernst van Zuijlen is satisfied with the outcome of the project; “The framework that the researchers produced with us will certainly help direct the following steps. We now know where conflicts occur and whom we must talk with. That is a big help.”
The potential of value-sensitive design
An inspiring example is the Oosterscheldekering (Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier), built in the 1980s. It protects the residents of Zeeland from flooding (safety) and by means of sluice-gate-type doors it permits the ecologically important tidal flow (sustainability). By means of a smart design two initially conflicting values could both be honored. As a result this piece of infrastructure was embraced by a wide range of stakeholders.
offshore wind energy, North Sea, wind turbine, wind mill, wind mill, institutions, socio-technical system, gas platforms, public acceptance, opposition, electricity supply
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