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UHI Researchers Play a Key Role in £2.9m Project to Help Coastal Communities Cope With The Move to Renewable Energy

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Researchers at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) are applying their expertise in archaeology, heritage, community engagement and creative practice to ensure that offshore renewable energy, including offshore wind and tidal energy, develops in a way that benefits, rather than harms, coastal communities. 

In collaboration with Heriot-Watt University, the University of Aberdeen, the University of Strathclyde and the University of Hull, the four-year project is called TRANSitions in Energy for Coastal communities over Time and Space (TRANSECTS) and will run until April 2028.

The TRANSECTS project takes an interdisciplinary place and time-based approach which allows learning from the experiences of different coastal communities during past energy transitions, to support and inform future decision-making.

The research is one of four projects to share £14.8 million in funding through the Resilient Coastal Communities and Seas Programme, which is funded by UK Research and Innovation – the UK’s national funding agency for investing in science and research, and the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The programme aims to boost the resilience of coastal communities in all four nations of the UK by drawing expertise from multiple disciplines.

The project is led by Dr Karen Alexander, a marine social scientist at Heriot-Watt University’s School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society.

“Past transitions have often had a negative effect on coastal communities,” Dr Alexander explains.

“For example, the growing use of whale oil in lamps in the 19th century and the transition to offshore oil and gas in the 1970s both brought boom and bust cycles, with highs and lows in jobs and investment.

“There were also big impacts on the environment that affected both people and nature.

“Through this project, we’re going back in time to research how people in coastal communities experienced these changes.

“The aim is to inform approaches to the current energy transition that protect the wellbeing of coastal communities – and underpin the success of important blue economy industries like offshore renewables.”

UHI academics Dr Antonia Thomas, Dr Jen Harland, and Anne Bevan of the UHI Archaeology Institute are Project Co-Leads, with Dan Lee of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology as Research and Innovation Associate.

They will use creative and participatory research methodologies alongside historical and archival research to explore the impacts of past and present marine energy transitions on present-day communities.

The research will involve collaborating with artists, scientists and cultural organisations including museums, industry and government, and with coastal communities in Scotland and England.

The project’s geographical focus is on three areas: the Humber Estuary in England, the Orkney Islands archipelago and the east coast of Scotland between Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Stakeholder partners include the Scottish Government, the Marine Management Organisation, which regulates marine activities in the seas around England and Wales, and Offshore Energies UK, a trade association for the UK offshore energies industry.

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