Skip to main content


NIMBYism and the Low Carbon Transition

Module titleNIMBYism and the Low Carbon Transition
Module codeGEO3133
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Professor Patrick Devine-Wright (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

The module is an opportunity to develop your understanding of key social and spatial challenges involved in the transition of energy technologies and infrastructures towards low carbon energy sources (e.g. wind, solar, tidal). The implications of large and small-scale (centralised and decentralised) low carbon energy systems for the roles and practices afforded to members of the public within this transition are discussed, with publics conceived diversely as individuals, households and communities potentially involved in producing as well as consuming electricity. Linked to this, the concepts of ‘community energy’ and ‘energy citizenship’ are discussed and linked to specific policy initiatives and research. In relation to larger scale energy infrastructure, how local projects are being contested by publics is a key focus for the module, with a predominant interest in the concept of ‘NIMBYism’ – what it means, how it is deployed, by whom and with what implications. Criticisms of the concept are discussed and alternative approaches based on issues of place, equity and justice are explored via empirical research and real-world case studies.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module will:

  • provide an overview of the ways in which current technological systems of energy generation, supply and use are in transition from centralised, fossil-fuel sources to distributed, low carbon energy and to appreciate the implications of these changes for the identities, values and roles of publics;
  • critically assess the concept of ‘NIMBYism’ (Not In My Back Yard) and how discourses of NIMBYism are deployed in contexts of conflict over the siting of energy technologies;
  • through empirical case study analyses, reflect on the limitations of the NIMBY concept and the value of an alternative approach based on issues of place, justice and equity.

The module involves in-depth workshops and class discussions that seek to develop the following graduate attributes:

  • interpersonal communication skills through small group discussions;
  • confidence in assessing the robustness of evidence arising from different sources and methods;
  • articulating scientific concepts and evidence with confidence through critical review of key readings and seminar discussions

The teaching contributions on this module involve elements of research undertaken by the module convenor, such as research on NIMBYism, Community Energy, Decentralised Energy, Energy Citizenship and Place Attachment. Articles authored by the convenor make up some of the papers to be discussed in module seminars. In these as well as lectures, you will be encouraged to undertake enquiry-led learning, specifically through small-group discussions and workshops that critically evaluate how conceptual themes are manifest in specific conflict case studies around shale gas, wind energy, tidal energy and high voltage power lines.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Assess energy infrastructures as socio-technical systems and the challenges arising from policies to mitigate climate change
  • 2. Analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the NIMBY concept as a means to describe and explain social conflicts surrounding the siting of energy technologies
  • 3. Draw on diverse, multidisciplinary theoretical perspectives, empirical research studies, real-world case studies and practical examples of technology siting and attendant controversies
  • 4. Gather insights from these multiple sources to appraise the NIMBY concept and consider the value of alternative perspectives and explanations of social conflicts

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Evaluate arguments on NIMBYism and spatial exclusion
  • 6. Interpret advanced?level texts that make geographical arguments about energy transitions
  • 7. Adopt a cross-disciplinary perspective for the development of knowledge and understanding
  • 8. Discuss the contested and provisional nature of knowledge and understanding

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Formulate personal opinions based upon individual study and research
  • 10. Communicate these opinions verbally to peers in a seminar context
  • 11. Discuss and defend these opinions verbally in small and medium-sized groups
  • 12. Interpret and evaluate academic arguments that are new and/or unfamiliar
  • 13. Apply these arguments to a range of contexts within your subject discipline
  • 14. Think in an abstract, critical way about a wide range of issues

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Each week will have a two hour lecture and a one hour seminar:

  • Introduction to the module and to socio-technical systems of energy supply and demand
  • Energy systems in transition: shifting energy sources, technologies, roles and practices
  • NIMBY discourse and the (mis)understanding energy siting conflicts
  • Social acceptance and the ‘social gap’ in public support for renewable energy
  • Imaginary publics, knowledge deficits and a relational framework for understanding public engagement
  • Sense of place and the siting of energy infrastructure
  • Justice in energy infrastructure siting: recognition, distributive and procedural fairness
  • Siting conflict case study 1: Offshore wind energy (Gwynt y Mor, North Wales)
  • Siting conflict case study 2: High voltage transmission power lines (Hinkley Point C, Somerset)
  • Small is beautiful? Decentralised community energy initiatives and the shared ownership of renewable energy projects
  • NIMBYism and social acceptance: Integration and Revision.

Additionally, there will be a half-day field trip held during the first month of term to visit an energy infrastructure project and investigate alternative roles played by individuals and communities in the low carbon transition.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching22Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching11Reading related discussion seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching3Optional field trip to community energy project
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1Revision lecture
Guided Independent Study22Preparing for seminars
Guided Independent Study63Reading and research
Guided Independent Study28Revision


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay plan750 words1-3In class

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay402000 wordsAllWritten
Examination602 hoursAllWritten


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssayAllAugust Ref/Def
ExaminationExaminationAllAugust Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination or submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Aitken, M. (2010) Why we still don't understand the social aspects of wind power: a critique of key assumptions within the literature. Energy Policy, 38, 1834-1841.
  • Barnett, J., Burningham, K., Walker, G. and Cass, N. (2012) Imagined Publics and Engagement around Renewable Energy Technologies in the UK. Public Understanding of Science, 21, 36-50.
  • Bell, D., Gray, T., and Haggett, C. (2005). The ‘Social Gap’ in wind farm policy siting decisions: Explanations and policy responses. Environmental Politics, 14, 460–477.
  • Burningham, K. (2000). Using the Language of NIMBY: A topic for research not an activity for researchers. Local Environment, 5, 55–67.
  • Cass, N., Walker, G. and Devine-Wright, P. (2010) Good Neighbours, Public Relations and Bribes: The politics and perceptions of community benefit provision in renewable energy development in the UK. Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, 21, 255-275.
  • Dear (1992) Understanding and overcoming the NIMBY syndrome. Journal of the American Planning Association, 58, 288-300.
  • Devine-Wright, P. (2009) Rethinking Nimbyism: the role of place attachment and place identity in explaining place protective action. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 19(6), 426-441.
  • Devine-Wright, H. and Devine-Wright, P. (2009) Social representations of electricity network technologies: exploring processes of anchoring and objectification through the use of visual research methods. British Journal of Social Psychology, 48, 357-373.
  • Devine-Wright, P. and Howes, Y. (2010) Disruption to place attachment and the protection of restorative environments: a wind energy case study. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30, 271-280.
  • Devine-Wright, P. (Ed.) (2011) Renewable Energy and the Public: From NIMBY to Participation. London: Earthscan.
  • Devine-Wright, P. (2011) Place attachment and the public acceptance of renewable energy: a tidal energy case study. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31, 336-343.
  • Gross, C. (2007). Community perspectives of wind energy in Australia: The application of a justice and community fairness framework to increase social acceptance. Energy Policy, 35, 2727-2736.
  • McLachlan, C. (2009) ‘You don’t do a chemistry experiment in your best China’: Symbolic interpretations of place and technology in a wave energy case. Energy Policy, 37, 5342-5350.
  • Pasqualetti, M. (2011) Opposing wind energy landscapes: a search for a common cause. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 101(4) 2011, pp. 1–11.
  • Walker, G. and Cass, N. (2007) Carbon reduction, ‘the public’ and renewable energy: engaging with socio-technical configuration. Area, 39, 458-469.
  • Walker, G., Cass, N., Burningham, K. and Barnett, J. (2010) Renewable energy and socio-technical change: imagined subjectivities of ‘the public’ and their implications. Environment and Planning A, 42, 931-947.
  • Warren, C. and McFadyen, M. (2010) Does community ownership affect public attitudes to wind energy? A case study from south-west Scotland. Land Use Policy, 27, 204–213.
  • Wolsink, M. (2007) Wind power implementation: The nature of public attitudes: Equity and fairness instead of “back- yard motives.” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 11, 1188–1207.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

NIMBY, energy transitions, public engagement, public acceptance, place, justice, equity

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date