The social aspects of the energy transition

TNO is gathering knowledge about involving and motivating people, and about methods of collaboration between government and citizens, between companies and local residents and among consumers. This insight is important in order to create support for and to accelerate the energy transition. After all, the transition from fossil fuels and raw materials to sustainable energy management involves far more than technological innovation  ̶  the societal challenges are at least as important.

Citizen participation and preventing energy poverty

Energy transition has far-reaching effects on people's immediate living environment. Changes in the home, neighbourhood and environment are necessary to achieve the goals of saving energy and generating renewable energy. Many citizens want to have a greater or lesser degree of influence regarding plans related to the energy transition and they want to feel involved in any decisions that are made.

In other words, citizens want to participate in these plans. Unless this is handled sensitively, it can lead to concerns, discussions and can even distance citizens from the project's proponents. This may lead to delays or to the project not materializing. Prevention of energy poverty is also an important issue. We are increasing our awareness on how best to organise citizens’ participation and also on preventing energy poverty.

Reducing consumption

Accelerating energy transition also requires a reduction in the use of energy by consuming fewer products and services that have a negative impact on the environment. Consuming less sounds simple, but may in reality be an impossibility: the demand for climate-damaging activities such as flying, driving and buying things continues to grow. So the question is not: can reducing consumption help accelerate the reduction of carbon emissions? But instead: how can we make it happen?

This involves changing consumer behaviour, especially by making changes to the social system, in order to make it easier to live sustainably. Citizens have an important role to play in any system changes. One option that has been explored is to give consumers specific, annually decreasing CO2 emission rights. There appears to be support for this system, but feasibility may be a stumbling block.

The role of energy communities and consumers

Energy communities play a potentially important role in accelerating energy transition. These communities often have primary goals other than just making a financial profit. How are these communities established? What steps do they take in the customer journey to accomplish their objective? What are the success factors and bottlenecks involved?

We are studying how energy communities can design and offer propositions which coincide with the values of residents, such as autonomy, a sense of belonging, comfort and enjoyment. In addition, we are also researching consumer-related issues. Why do consumers choose certain energy products and services, or why don’t they? What are the consumer needs and requirements that you should address in developing new energy products and services? And how can you use engagement strategies and co-creation to involve consumers in designing and evaluating these new products and services?

Choices made by companies

Our research is not limited to citizen and consumer behaviour, as it is equally important to know the criteria on which companies base their choices. If the motivations behind companies' choices for new technology are clearly understood, government will then be able to tailor its policies accordingly. For example, it is often difficult for SMEs to carry out energy audits and energy-saving measures due to a lack of expertise, time, capital and support. A local, collective approach that uses the role of a party trusted by SMEs (the Trusted Partner) could offer a solution.

In order to transition energy-intensive industries, it is important that these businesses have the necessary local support to enable them to initiate the required action to achieve their contribution to their climate goals. We are studying how environment-focused work can be made a common practice in industry.


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System transition

Dr Suzanne Brunsting

  • Production Scenarios & Society