Energy Publics: mapping public participation in Bristol’s energy transition

Bristol Sustainable Energy Research Fund

ECI lead: Dr Jake Barnes

This project addressed the question: how and where is energy participation occurring in the West of England? As an internationally recognised centre of energy-related innovation and civic experimentation for a more sustainable, socially just energy system, Bristol was a logical location for study.

The process of transforming energy systems requires greater engagement and involvement of the public. Contemporary public participation tends to take place through opinion polls, protests, maker spaces and smart technology trials, which can make results difficult to quantify. This review used Twitter to search for data on energy participation, limiting search results to the West of England, through key word searches on Twitter handles – organisations with an interest or active role in diverse forms of energy participation. See the research protocol for further details.

Our work

The approach captured a range of formal and informal forms of energy participation, particularly those organised by civil society and local government. It was less successful at capturing energy participation where the results were not widely publicised, or where participants were recruited through emails, letters or via print newsletters or noticeboards.

Analysis revealed clear trends:

  • To encourage a more sustainable, inclusive and socially just energy system in the region, diverse forms of public participation should be encouraged
  • To achieve a more inclusive and socially just energy transition requires responsive and responsible forms of governing energy systems change, giving equal weight to how the public gets involved in the 'doing' of system change, not just what is said in formal participatory exercises
  • The process for developing more sustainable, inclusive and democratically accountable energy is likely to be messier, more contested and heated than the development of sustainable energy systems guided by experts
  • While multiple discrete participatory events are useful, more effort is needed to link up diverse participation into coherent and larger participatory exercises
  • Experimentation to link different forms of citizen participation with different forms and scales of energy decision-making is needed.


Public participation in a West of England energy transition: Key patterns and trends

Jake Barnes

February 2019

This report addresses the question: how and where is public participation in energy systems occurring in the West of England? Achieving deep and timely cuts to carbon emissions requires fundamental changes to the way society produces and consumes energy, and the active engagement and participation of citizens. 

Energy publics: Research protocol

Jake Barnes

June 2018

This protocol outlines the research design and methodological steps for a rapid review of evidence for the project Energy Publics. The aim is to gather up-to-date information about energy participation within the West of England.

Energy publics database

Jake Barnes

February 2018

Data from the Energy publics project final report.