25/10/2013 | Gary Hartley | Products and technology | Aberystwyth university, perceptions of wind turbines, planning, renewable energy, Renewables and aesthetics, research, Rural energy, wind power, wind turbines
It might be the fact that there’s something just a little bit human about their long torsos and flailing arms, but it appears that the sight of wind turbines stirs a strange and complex range of emotional reactions.
In what is quite possibly the most intriguing report we've seen in recent times, the Economics and Social Research Council (ESRC) has revealed that Greg Dash, PHD researcher at Aberystwyth University, is studying the human response to wind turbines in rural settings.
Interviewing walkers in the Welsh countryside, Dash might have expected an explicitly negative reaction – but the truth is a lot more nuanced:
It seems that visitors can accommodate the presence of the turbines – they will not stop coming because of them. But the responses to these rotating structures on the landscape are often more complex than first appears."
One interviewee was reminded of childhood walks and their relationship with their father, while another saw the whirling blades as a metaphor for the circle of life. Others, less philosophically, felt powerless in the face of what they saw as political machinations beyond their control.
Dash will be taking a group of attendees of the Festival of Social Science around the turbines on 2 November, to further bolster his understanding of how this technology makes us tick.
Almost like the modern trend of ‘site-specific theatre’, science seems to be finding it useful to get people out of neutral buildings and right to the heart of the matter. In this case, it’s a leftfield and interesting angle on an often-contentious issue.
All in all, the very personal reactions being found in the early reports of this study are a world away from the ‘group-think’ on renewable energy that our Head of Communications Julian Roberts highlighted in a blog last year, where his own toddler got carried away into damning the aesthetic qualities of solar panels after overhearing the consensus of the neighbours.
It also shows that while media coverage may affect people’s perception of subjects, as it did for our Energy Saving Week survey on the security of the UK’s energy supply, there’s no getting away from imagination and memory sometimes – even when you’re talking about issues as practical as powering our homes and businesses.