Transformation of the energy system in NRW: research project shows visions of the future

What do people in NRW think about the transformation of the energy system and how do they behave in everyday life? The research project ‘Attitudes and Behaviour Patterns’ by the Transformation Energiewende NRW Virtual Institute has thrown light on these questions from different perspectives. It showed what visions of the future for the energy transition might look like and how these could be achieved.

Attitudes and behaviour patterns: reality check on approaches to climate protection

The Transformation Energiewende NRW Virtual Institute is a network of currently ten scientific institutions which are researching the transformation of the energy system in North Rhine-Westphalia on an inter- and trans-disciplinary basis. The Jülich research centre was responsible for the co-ordination of the Attitudes and Behaviour Patterns project. The project was situated at the interface of the social, economic and cultural sciences and psychology, and attempted systematic research into awareness of sustainability in NRW, also covering behaviour. The researchers also partly worked to actively promote sustainability awareness.

Engine for progress:

  • Improved knowledge base on climate protection for educational and information facilities
  • Better interdisciplinary understanding of attitudes and behaviour patterns
  • Transferable knowledge for communication on the transformation of the energy system
  • High potential for social change


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Photo: Transformation - Energiewende NRW

Citizens of Essen would like, among other things, to see less air travel, free use of local transport and less land surface sealing.

“Imagine that it’s the year 2030”: system understanding and visions of the energy transition

The project comprised three elements: system understanding, visioning and transformation. The system understanding element identified the energy-related attitudes and behaviour patterns and revealed regional and socio-cultural differences. Among other things, it showed that almost all citizens of NRW had already heard of the ‘Energiewende’ or transformation of the energy system. For most people, the transformation of the energy system meant climate protection, increase in electricity generated from renewable resources and phasing out of nuclear energy, but also a rethink throughout society and changes in behaviour. In regard to behaviour patterns, it became clear, for example, that the car is the means of transport most used in NRW to get to work, run errands and go to spare time activities.

The visioning element covered research into how people imagined the energy system of the future, what role they saw for themselves on the way towards it, and what they expected from various (for example, political or economic) stakeholders. Two community workshops were held to refine these ideas. The extension of renewable energies was supported and linked to opportunities for democratisation and participation as well as strengthening the region’s economy. The transformation of the energy system was seen in a wider sense and associated with a broad transformation of systems and social practices. For example, people wanted to see an increase in cycling and public transport as well as greener towns and landscapes.

Transformation from the current state to the target state

The transformation element dealt with how the visioning targets can be reached, how people and organisations in NRW can develop a stronger sustainability awareness and what is necessary for the expansion of sustainable technologies and their acceptance. Here the results showed that citizens, when it comes to shaping the world they live in, engage with considerable creativity as ‘experts of everyday life’. The promotion and networking of civil society initiatives can provide one key for a successful transformation. But the project results also affirmed ‘classical approaches’ such as the improvement of the infrastructure for sustainable transport modes (cycling/public transport).

So as well as pure research, the project delivers concrete indications on how the transformation of the energy system can be made a success in NRW. The results of the research cluster clearly improve the knowledge base for political, educational and media institutions.

Photo: Dr. Steven Engler, Dr. Karin Schürmann

“It is clear from people’s awareness and behaviour in NRW that there is not a single energy transition, but many different characteristics of the transformation! The project shows that the complexity of the transformation of the energy system requires interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary research. Only through the collaboration between different scientific disciplines and the exchange with citizens in NRW has it been possible to determine the everyday relevance of the energy transition.”

Dr Steven Engler, Project Co-ordinator and Manager at the Transformation – Energiewende NRW Virtual Institute and Dr Karin Schürmann, Co-ordinator of the Attitudes and Behaviour Patterns in the context of the energy transition in NRW project

Partners and sponsors

  • Forschungszentrum Jülich, Institut für Energie- und Klimaforschung - Systemforschung und Technologische Entwicklung
  • Wuppertal Institut für Klima, Umwelt, Energie
  • Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut
  • E.ON Energy Research Center der RWTH Aachen
  • Integratives Institut Nachhaltige Entwicklung, Hochschule Bochum
  • Ministerium für Innovation, Wissenschaft und Forschung (MIWF)
  • Mercator Stiftung