Governance & Participation: The public shapes the transformation of the energy system

The energy transition is a part of society: it influences many aspects of life for the general public – be it in technological developments, political framework, new business strategies or in personal lifestyle. The research cluster "Governance & Participation” at the virtual institute Transformation – Energiewende NRW concerns itself with these related topics. Through its project Energiewende.NRW, it focuses mainly on social innovation and a participation-oriented implementation of the energy transition.

The starting point of the project are the social innovations and social narratives of the energy transition. Among other issues, the project examines the question of how social innovations and public participation procedures can inspire the energy transition. The goal is to set new impetus for practical application based on this question and to promote a better understanding of the energy transition in politics and education as well as in the general public through the research project.

Engine for progress:

  • Increasing understanding of the energy transition by identifying social innovations; participation and open access
  • Developing options to combat rebound effects
  • Developing design offers for the public

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Nora Freier, BU Wuppertal

Public involvement over the trees: lecture on the treetop path Panarbora

Counterbalancing the rebound effect

The researchers developed concrete initiatives for best practice examples in the field of social innovations (such as the electricity saving check). The approaches developed are a response to the large problem of rebound effects. Increased efficiency often reduces costs of products and services, which in turn changes user behaviour. People now consume more and this partially offsets original savings. The project developed ideas for concrete initiatives (supplements) to combat just that. Energy consultants, for example, are encouraging users to recycle the money they saved from energy efficiency measures into investments in new energy-saving devices. If effectively communicated, these measures can help prevent the rebound effect.

The energy transition as a group effort

The transformation of the energy system can only succeed if civil society contributes in shaping, advancing and supporting this fundamental reconstruction. Public participation procedures are therefore important components of a sustainable energy supply system. A systematic overview of successful cases of public participation in the energy transition in North Rhine-Westphalia can be found in the Open Access Database. This was developed and implemented during the project as a platform for a wide range of information and data concerning public participation procedures. Using an interactive map and filter search, interested scientists, practitioners and citizens can find out where, how, why and with what degree of success NRW inhabitants have taken part in and supported the energy transition. Using a Citizen Science interface, individuals can provide further valuable information and update the database.

To constructively implement the energy transition with high levels of participation, we must have constructive and broad involvement of as many groups of the population as possible as well as an open and fair dialogue culture. Real-world laboratories were developed during the project to facilitate high-inclusive and socially integrative public participation. A multi-day participation process for 100 randomly selected city and country residents was designed under the title Energiewende.NRW – Bürgerschaftlich gestalten. The focus was on the question of how to sustainably and communally conceptualise on-site energy and how to redesign home, work and life in the region, municipality and district. The result is a citizens’ report with a transparent and comprehensive summary of qualified communal opinions and recommendations on the methods for and the goals of the energy transition in NRW.

H. J. Lietzmann und J. Schultze

The people must be included in the design of future energy systems. The importance of social innovation is often underestimated or even ignored. During the transformation of our energy systems, not only must we change infrastructure, but also the attitude and behaviour of the people. The fundamental restructuring of the energy system can only be successfully implemented if civil society helps to shape, advance and support it.

Prof. Hans Lietzmann, University of Wuppertal and Jürgen Schultze, Sozialforschungsstelle at TU Dortmund

Partners and sponsors

  • Sozialforschungsstelle der TU Dortmund
  • Bergische Universität Wuppertal
  • Wuppertal Institut für Klima, Umwelt, Energie
  • Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen
  • Ministerium für Innovation, Wissenschaft und Forschung (MIWF)