Obstacles that currently hinder the development and operation of local integrated energy systems

Juliane Marie Schillinger*, Frans H.J.M. Coenen, Ewert J. Aukes, Victoria I. Daskalova, Cihan Gerçek, Florian Lukas Helfrich, Dasom Lee, Goos Lier, Lisa Sanderink, Athanasios Votsis, Joey Willemse

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/ReportReportAcademic

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The SERENE project strives for integrated local energy systems that are decentralized, digitalized and much more citizen-centered than current energy systems. These energy systems do not neatly fit into today’s policies, regulations and rules, which were designed for more centralized energy systems characterized by large-scale energy providers. This report (SERENE project deliverable 3.1) thereforeconsiders the non-technological dynamics of energy transitions which might play a role for the implementation of the SERENE project. Specifically, it addresses the question: Which socio-economic, governance and regulatory factors influence the local energy system transition?In this report, we consider the energy system as a socio-technical system comprising both technologicaland social components, and energy system transitions as socio-technical transitions in which technological and social components co-evolve. Conceptually, this analysis is rooted in the socio-technical system change and transition management literature.The report is the result of a three-step process (Figure 0.1). First, we identify general social factors that influence socio-technical transitions in local energy systems based on extensive literature reviews from six different social science perspectives: 1) socio-economics, 2) regulations, 3) governance, 4) urban planning, 5) social acceptance, and 6) societal debates. Second, we relate these general factors to the characteristics of the different SERENE demonstrator sites in Denmark, the Netherlands and Poland, drawing from SERENE project documents, policy reports and key actor input during project meetings, focus groups and interviews. Third, we specify areas in need of attention during the implementation of SERENE activities in the demonstrator sites that can inform the work of local implementation partners, and opportunities for SERENE to provide new knowledge on social dynamics in local energy system transitions. We provide a brief summary of the key results of this process below.Socio-economic factors, including the personal circumstances and motives of individual citizens and the interactions between technology and the energy market, influence energy consumption patterns and can create incentives for investments in the local energy system. With regards to the SERENE demonstrators, a broad community survey will be needed to capture the individual socio-economic circumstances and motivations of local residents. The SERENE project implementation will be influenced by the different economic and non-economic incentives in the local contexts and by potential paradigm shifts sparked by technological or social interventions. Project activities also need to be sensitive to local energy poverty conditions and avoid increasing local vulnerabilities.Regulatory factors are predominantly related to the mismatch between the existing regulations, which were originally designed for fossil fuel-based energy systems, and the regulations needed to facilitate local energy systems based on renewable energy sources, including corresponding market regulations. The incomplete transposition of the new EU energy directives is creating significant regulatory uncertainty in the demonstrators, as the specific conditions for energy communities and their implications for the SERENE project implementation are yet to be determined. At the same time, it is already clear that interventions will need to address a wide range of regulatory issues related to their specific technological or social innovations, and related to broader regulations like the right of EU citizens to choose their energy supplier. The Dutch and Polish demonstrators provide some opportunities for experimentation, as they both enjoy some degree of exemptions from energy laws, giving them a ‘regulatory sandbox’ status. Governance factors cover a range of factors related to the polycentric nature of energy governance, with transition processes including various institutions and actors across different levels, each of which may influence the local energy system transition. It is therefore crucial to account for the role of different actors and institutions in the energy transition processes in each demonstrator, and to reflect on whether their role matches their position within the SERENE project. Implementation partners additionally need to ensure opportunities for the active participation of local residents, and account for emerging self-organization structures and the heterogeneous energy visions and preferences of the local community and actors.Urban planning factors revolve around the decentralized local energy system as a new contender for urban land use, and the need to integrate energy and urban planning in multi-sectoral and multi-objective considerations. The current energy infrastructure capacity and mobility patterns in the demonstrators influence potential trajectories for the expansion of local renewable energy generation and electric mobility, which are part of the planned SERENE interventions in all demo sites. Project implementation should capitalize on urban commoning potential where it is available (Dutch demonstrators), and help create potential where it is lacking (Danish and Polish demonstrators), to ensure bottom-up, adaptive urban and energy planning. Social acceptance factors, related to people’s perceptions, attitudes, and thoughts towards a social transformation of energy, determine likely positive or negative community reactions to the local energy system transformation. Prior experiences with decentralized, renewable energy generation and the overall environmental awareness in the demonstrators have created various levels of expected social acceptance and attitudes towards the SERENE project. More detailed insights based on individual-level acceptance will need to be gathered with a community survey. Throughout the project, implementation partners need to be mindful of and, where possible, capitalize on changes in social acceptance through community movements or in reaction to specific interventions.Societal debate factors reflect on the changing role of citizens in the local energy system transition and cover issues related to notions of discourse, socio-technical imaginary and citizen empowerment. The demonstrators start out in different places with regards to existing social organization on energy and other issues, as well as with regards to the on-going energy and sustainability discourses within the local communities. It will be important to assess how these discourses change throughout the SERENE project, both organically and due to social interventions that aim to open spaces for new local energy debates.The most important implications of each set of social factors for the SERENE project and for the implementation of different innovations related to the local energy system transition in the demonstrators are summarized in Table 0.1. The different factors identified in this deliverable can present obstacles to the implementation of specific technical or social innovations or to the overall local energy transition, as well as lead to unintended side effects of innovations, e.g., the marginalization of vulnerable groups. A follow-up to this report, SERENE project deliverable 3.2, builds on our analysis to assess the obstacles related to these factors in more detail.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationAalborg
PublisherUniversity of Aalborg
Commissioning bodyEuropean Commission
Number of pages117
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 2022


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