The siting of renewable energy developments in a crowded marine space

  • Inne Withouck

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by UHI)


As Scotland transitions to net zero, justice for existing marine users who may be impacted by offshore renewable energy developments can be considered across three tenets, procedural, recognitional and distributional justice, and they will all influence whether a just transition is achieved. This thesis explores these dimensions of energy justice across a range of marine planning scales - from the national allocation of renewable energy sites through to site adjustments made at the project level. A better understanding of how justice can be integrated into marine spatial planning can enable inclusive decision-making.
Procedural justice is affected by the way in which socio-economic values are considered in spatial decision support tools that inform siting, such as multi-criteria suitability mapping. To ensure consideration of procedural justice, marine planning policies are in place to ensure that existing users are taken into consideration during the siting of novel developments, but these policies are not commonly integrated into spatial decision support tools. This thesis developed a procedural framework for integrating marine planning policies into mapping tools to ensure their inclusion in the siting process. The procedural framework was developed using a value-focused thinking approach. The framework improves transparency in the siting process by unfolding how the adopted tool method, affects how planning policies are interpreted and implemented in the siting process at both a strategic level and project level. The framework can also be used to test how implementable a policy is for spatial decision-making.
As well as procedural justice, recognitional justice is also a concern for strategic-level multi-criteria mapping. Socio-economic values of remote and island communities may be overshadowed by higher intensities of socio-economic activity in densely populated areas. In response, this thesis developed novel fuzzy standardisation techniques for marine suitability mapping, to improve local representation in national-level mapping efforts. The techniques can improve recognitional justice considerations in the mapping process, by representing both local and national areas of importance in suitability layers.
The fishing industry is the sector most likely to experience changes due to the emergence of more energy projects at sea, which can have repercussions for distributional justice. Through a case study analysis of offshore energy planning in Scotland using a combination of document analysis and interviews, this thesis found that engagement with the fishing industry during initial spatial decision-making at a strategic level has improved over time, with increased representation of fisheries voices. At both a project level and strategic level, constructive communication between the energy and fisheries sectors was found to be as important for fostering procedural justice as sufficient fisheries data. However, compared to larger-scale fisheries, resource constraints prevented small-scale fisheries from being as involved in spatial decisions, indicating recognitional justice concerns.
Accounting explicitly for justice during the siting of novel energy developments, using the methods presented in this thesis, can foster a better mutual understanding between emerging and existing sectors of the blue economy. This has the potential to prevent conflicts in the future and facilitate a just energy transition towards renewable sources.
Date of Award7 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
SupervisorRachel Shucksmith (Supervisor), Paul Tett (Supervisor) & John Doran (Supervisor)

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