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

Dr Jake Barnes 

Environmental Researcher

The Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University

It is increasingly recognised that the process of transforming energy systems will require the increased engagement and involvement of 'the public'.


Traditionally, public participation was viewed as occurring through discrete events (e.g. consultations) or on singular topics (e.g. the siting of renewable technologies), whereas contemporary energy participation is thought to take increasingly diverse forms.


Participation through opinion polls, protests, maker spaces, smart technology trials and so on, all contribute to making contemporary energy participation hard to pin down and understand.


This project aimed to help fill this gap in knowledge by mapping energy participation in the West of England, then analysing the results to identify and explore key patterns and trends within regional energy participation.


A rapid assessment of contemporary public participation in the West of England’s energy system was undertaken, identifying 435 individual participatory events, which were compiled and analysed in search of key patterns and trends. 

What emerges from the dataset is a diverse picture.


Contemporary regional energy participation is being led by various organisations from across all sectors; it employs multiple formats (consultations, talks, protests etc.); covers a large variety of issue spaces (community participation, fuel poverty, housing, nuclear etc.); and spans all three areas of the energy system (supply, distribution and use) to various extents.


But within this diversity a number of trends standout, including:

  • A concentration of activity within Bristol

  • The dominance of civil society-led activity over other sectors

  • The degree to which regional energy participation is informal, emergent and often performative

  • The extent to which regional energy participation appears to be quite fragmented


A basic database listing all 435 instances of participation can be accessed here, including high-level information about the what, who, where and when of participatory events.

A summary of the findings can be found in Jake's presentation here.

Fuel Stories: a community energy engagement model 

Dr Elaine Forde

Lecturer at the Morgan Academy

Swansea University

This project developed a model for community engagement that sought to involve marginal or disadvantaged groups in locally-owned community energy projects. Community energy projects are more readily adopted in affluent communities, yet this form of decentralised energy generation will be a key component of supplying energy in the future. 

The project ran a series of engagement workshops in some of the most disadvantaged areas in Bristol to encourage people to talk about their relationship to energy and to share their own 'fuel stories'. The engagement workshops used visual elicitation techniques with the aim of creating an expressive space where people can reflect on how energy has shaped their lives.

These visual 'fuel stories' can be seen in Elaine's presentation here.

Centre for Sustainable Energy 

St James Court, St James Parade, Bristol, BS1 3LH 0117 934 1400 | Reg Charity 298740 

BSERF is managed by the Centre for Sustainable Energy and funded by Bristol Energy Cooperative and the Centre for Sustainable Energy.