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Can virtual reality improve public acceptance of wind power?

Using VR, community members responded favourably to the concept of wind turbines.

As the North Sea is relatively shallow, turbines can be installed fairly easily and in great number
As the North Sea is relatively shallow, turbines can be installed fairly easily and in great number - Copyright POOL/AFP Christian Charisius
As the North Sea is relatively shallow, turbines can be installed fairly easily and in great number - Copyright POOL/AFP Christian Charisius

Colby professors are using virtual reality as a new approach to for helping East Coast communities to better understand the contribution that wind power can make to a sustainable energy future.

According to the latest survey from the Pew Research Center, 67 percent of U.S. say the U.S. should prioritise developing alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar and hydrogen technology.

However, when renewable energy projects move closer to home, these are often faced with persistent opposition from locals who are set to bear the burdens and who argue that the benefits are not distributed to the local community. Wind power is generated almost completely with wind turbines, generally grouped into wind farms and connected to an electrical grid.

This means that often projects lack support from the communities in which they thrive, and therefore such projects tend to fail. The Cape Wind project is one such example (as reported by the New York Times).

To address this tendency, two professors at Colby College, Alison Bates, assistant professor of environmental studies, and Stacy Doore, assistant professor of computer science, are seeking to change this.

The approach is based on using virtual reality (VR) technology to create an accurate opportunity to experience an offshore wind farm at a variety of distances, coastal community members can make more realistic, better-informed opinions about offshore wind energy options, including how their towns might benefit or be impacted by offshore wind power.

Signs are that, with this pilot, community members have responded favourably. According to Bates, projects like these and the policies around them benefit from more community dialogue.

Bates explains in a statement provided to Digital Journal: “We’re not sure if the full range of perceptions always ends up in the decision-making process. So, we’re trying to give voice and provide an avenue for people who may not be able to participate in public engagement processes and decision making.”

The researchers conducted their research in Boothbay and Harpswell, Maine. From this review, the researchers are coordinating with various governmental agencies in order to continue their research and to consider other coastal communities located across the East Coast.

The continuing application of the research includes assessing different fishing communities. Participants so far have included fishers and business owners, as well as seasonal and permanent residents. The research project is supported by federal agencies, including the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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