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Drawing policy insights from social innovation cases in the energy field

Jan 10 2022

A new paper, Drawing policy insights from social innovation cases in the energy field, co-authored by scientists from the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, University of Helsinki and Motiva, provides proof that social innovations can help to implement the energy transition, and identifies a number of policy changes which could support their emergence and growth.

Social innovation is gradually entering the domain of energy policy. However, its potential for the energy transition is yet to be fully demonstrated. The paper, recently published in the Energy Policy journal, highlights a wide range of positive impacts demonstrated by social innovation cases.

The article examines six cases in the energy field in Europe, based on interviews and documentation. The selected projects reflect a range of political contexts and traditions of civic engagement, and bottom-up as well as top-down approaches. They include: two biomass projects in Hungary and Bosnia and Herzegovina, renewable energy cooperatives in Spain (GoiEner) and Germany (Wolfhagen BEG), an Earthship community house in the UK (Brighton) and the European Energy Neighbourhoods2 project promoting energy efficient behaviour.

Social Impacts

The six projects address different aspects of the low-carbon energy transition, and make a visible impact on communities. Local energy production increases local employment, contributes to the wellbeing of residents and raises acceptance of technological innovations. Other social impacts include transparent energy prices, the alleviation of energy poverty, increased energy security, local community engagement and behavioural change.

Policy Frameworks

Regulatory frameworks at various levels shape the environment that either creates opportunities for social innovation or hinders its development. The case studies in this paper demonstrate how updated regulations allow citizens to play an active role in the energy transition, providing financial support and incentives for action. However, obstacles were also found, which could be overcome by removing legal barriers, offering financial support and subsidies, and providing non-monetary support such as nudging by positive reinforcement.

The authors conclude that promoting the use of social innovation to accelerate a fair transition should become the norm.