Engaging in public consultation for energy transmission projects provides a valuable opportunity to interact with various stakeholders. Appropriately managing these interactions utilising appropriate visual tools is crucial to help stakeholders better understand plans.
In this discussion, we explore how 3D interactive visualisation supports public consultation, how it can support a more transparent approach, and the potential fallbacks of this technology.
The role of visualisation tools in public consultation
Clear communication is essential in gaining stakeholder trust during public consultations. To convey technical plans effectively, project teams rely on various visualisations to bridge the gap between complex energy transmission planning and understandable information. Today, energy transmission teams rely on a combination of 2D visualisations like maps and drawings and 3D renders in public consultations.
While 2D and 3D visuals have their place, there's a growing case for introducing an interactive element into 3D visualisation. By introducing this, enhanced stakeholder understanding can help to address concerns about property values and environmental impact, ultimately fostering greater support for the plans.
The growing case for interactive 3D visualisation platforms to support public consultation
Recognising the limitations of sharing 2D plans, there is a growing case for adopting interactive 3D visualisation platforms of project sites. Using a backdrop of reality overlaid with project designs, these immersive platforms allow teams to better understand and present their plans and offer several advantages:
- Better understanding impact: Interactive features allow stakeholders to engage directly with the 3D model. Users can zoom in, rotate, and explore the infrastructure from different angles, gaining a comprehensive understanding of how it will impact their communities. This level of interactivity promotes engagement and empowers individuals to investigate specific areas of interest.
- Additional geospatial context: These platforms can integrate geospatial data, including topography, land use, and environmental information. Stakeholders can view how the transmission plan aligns with existing features like neighbourhoods, natural habitats, or cultural landmarks. Understanding this context helps teams assess the plan's implications.
- Information at your fingertips: Teams can quickly pull up 3D visualisations during discussions and meetings to showcase what constraints have been considered. When previously project teams needed to request additional 3D renders that take weeks to commission and receive, teams can pull up views from their desktop in public consultation meetings.
- Support justification for positioning: Using interactive platforms, teams can bring in other data sets taken into account on behalf of the community, such as environmental and social constraints. This helps landowners to understand better the reasoning behind the proposed choice .
- More engaging consultation meetings: When lengthy presentations might have been the go-to, interactive 3D platforms allow teams to navigate conversations using a digital representation of the area during meetings. This gives a more dynamic environment to base conversations on and allows more interaction between the stakeholders and the proposed future site.
Considerations of using 3D visualisation for public consultation
As with any innovation, interactive 3D visualisation for public consultation must be weighed against possible drawbacks.
- Risk of additional pushback: The benefit of heightened realism could lead to more concerns being raised by providing a more realistic depiction of the project.
- Unrealistic expectations: While interactive 3D platforms offer a high degree of realism, they still fall short of faithfully replicating certain real world aspects despite the best efforts. This discrepancy can lead to misleading expectations among stakeholders who might assume that the visual representation perfectly mirrors the eventual project outcome.
- Misinterpretation: Just as 3D visualisations can enhance understanding, they can also lead to misunderstanding if not used correctly. Stakeholders might make assumptions based on what they see in the 3D model that are not accurate or aligned with the project's actual details.
- Data reliability: The reliability of 3D visualisations depends on the quality and precision of the data used to create them. Only accurate or updated data can lead to accurate representations of the project, which could erode trust among stakeholders.
Striking a balance: building trust with 3D visualisation
Interactive 3D visualisation is a valuable tool for fostering trust when utilised effectively. It provides a comprehensive and captivating insight into the project, addressing concerns and minimising objections by offering a clearer view of the plans. However, teams must decide to strike the right balance between the different visualisation tools.
More and more projects will likely start to utilise and open up access to interactive 3D project visualisations in years to come. At Sensat we are finding teams are just starting to explore the use of 3D interactive platforms and testing their impact during the public consultation process.
Check out how some of our customers use 3D visualisation to support their energy projects.
Use Case 1: Turning disgruntled stakeholders into project allies
On a recent project with one of the UK’s largest electricity transmission providers, during public consultation, an aggrieved landowner questioned the proposed substation’s placement, perceiving it as a biased decision.
The team engaged with the landowner, pulling up a 3D visualisation of their land in conjunction with the constraint layers to explain the rationale and the extensive considerations taken into account during planning. Thanks to this innovative approach, the landowner has quickly become a project ally because they could see how this option was better than the others.
While 3D visualisation holds promise, it must be employed thoughtfully and transparently. When used in tandem with robust engagement strategies, it can enhance the consultation process, ultimately leading to more successful and harmonious projects. In an era of energy transition, trust-building is not just an option; it is an essential prerequisite for progress.
National Grid case study. Read more