The global increase in renewable energy initiatives has been followed by the need to include the social impact of any project as a core element. Significant challenges for renewable energy development include uncertainty in assessing social impacts at local scales, participation and social acceptance. Multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) approaches have been widely used in energy planning to address these challenges. This article reviews how social criteria and participation mechanisms have been incorporated into decision-making processes for renewable energy projects. A total of 184 articles were analyzed. A total of 490 indicators that estimated social impacts were identified and organized into nine criteria: employment, social acceptance, social development, health impact, governance, visual impact, knowledge and awareness, cultural value and social justice. Most research included analytical hierarchy process methodologies, and the articles were geographically concentrated in Asia and Europe. Most articles included a participative component (92.3%), and the majority of them were based on expert consultation (75.4%). Of the articles that exclusively considered experts, almost 40% did not provide any description of the expert elicitation process. Results revealed advances in the use of MCDA but highlighted important challenges—related to improving expert consultation methodologies and broadening the participation of stakeholders—when developing renewable energy initiatives and policies.
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