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Research Project funded under round two


Energy Democracy in Bristol's City Leap

Dr Emilia Melville and Jack Nicholls

This research investigates possible forms of democratic participation in Bristol City Council’s City Leap  project. The intended outcome is a proposal for a citizen advisory board or similar to the City Leap Joint Venture, with buy-in from key stakeholders in neighbourhoods and communities in Bristol, Bristol City Council’s democracy agenda, the community energy sector, and the City Leap project.


This will involve interviews with key stakeholders in each of these sectors and a facilitated meeting leading to one or more proposals for next steps to develop a set of processes, structure, and practical guidance for supporting the operations of this board.


This could lead on to further research with participation of city stakeholders. In addition to contributing to City Leap, this research would contribute to academic understanding of multi-stakeholder governance in a modern urban context, and give practical grounding to ideas for Energy Democracy, through creating concrete proposals in relation to a specific large city infrastructure project. This could have implications for democratisation of local decarbonised energy systems nationally and internationally.

Dr Emilia Melville has been involved in the community energy sector in Bristol since 2011, and was one of the founding directors of Bristol Energy Co-operative. She is currently the co-ordinator at Bristol Energy Network, and a director of Zero West, which works to accelerate zero carbon transition at the West of England level.

Jack Nicholls has worked as a researcher in and outside of academia with a focus on renewable energy for over 10 years. Jack is close to completing a PhD at the University of Bristol, titled, Owning the Sun: Energy Democracy and Public Participation in Solar Farm Developments in England. 

The Researchers will be presenting the project findings at an online event on the 11th of March 2021 at 5.30pm. Interested stakeholders can reserve tickets here.

You can access the Democracy in City Leap report here

You can access a recording of the presentation of findings event here





Research Projects funded under round one

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. If you'd like to run your own fuel stories workshops, email to request the workshop guide and image cards. 

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