The social aspects of the energy transition

ECN part of TNO develops knowledge about the engagement and motivation of people, forms of cooperation between government and citizens, between consumers themselves and what lessons we can learn from this. This insight is important in order to create support for the energy transition.

On the one hand, there are people who oppose new technologies in the field of sustainable energy, such as CO2 storage or freeing up neighbourhoods from natural gas, while there is also an enthusiastic group of forerunners who take initiatives themselves as individuals or collectively. What drives people and how do the underlying processes work? We study human thought and action to find out what stimulates or restrains consumers.

Communication on energy issues

In addition to technological research, social innovation is also the subject of study at ECN part of TNO. More insight is needed into the process of communication about energy issues, what is and is not effective. If the energy transition is to be a success, it must involve the entire population and not just the forerunners. We have examined various issues from the recent past, such as the plans for underground storage of CO2 to which the residents of Barendrecht and the surrounding area are opposed. Foreign initiatives were also examined, including CO2 storage in a French region. There the population was positive about the plans. It is very valuable to find out which motives played a role in both cases and whether and how the communication was influential.

Public authorities, industry and consumers

In our research, we consider the role of public authorities, industry and consumers. This will help the government to choose the right instruments to promote initiatives for sustainable energy.

In a major European project, we are exploring with partners the possibilities for energy savings in the food industry. How can this be stimulated, what decisions should companies take and how should they communicate these to their customers, shareholders, local residents and other stakeholders? Which communication strategies work or do not work and why.

Choice Behaviour

Many of the computer models used to conduct policy are economic in nature. They assume that people make rational decisions that are motivated by the need to keep costs as low as possible. Nevertheless, people's decision-making behaviour appears to be considerably more complicated. By investigating the factors that play a role in making choices in the field of sustainable energy, it is easier to predict which plans or measures will have an effect. Our studies are not limited to consumer behaviour, because it is at least as important to know on what basis companies make choices. When it becomes clear what motivates companies to opt for new technologies, the government can adjust policy accordingly.

A relatively new area of research is how the energy transition affects society. The concept of fairness plays a role in this: are the costs of the transition balanced or do they affect certain income groups disproportionately?

Towards broad support for the energy transition

Dr Suzanne Brunsting

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Dr Suzanne Brunsting

  • Production Scenarios & Society
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ECN part of TNO

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