BENE: BürgerEngagement für Nachhaltige Energie

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Citizen action for sustainable energy

Project summary



The project ‘BENE’ investigated supportive factors for active citizen engagement in energy issues and assessed the potential of active citizen engagement in energy issues (e.g. local and regional citizens’ initiatives promoting sustainable energy use, energy cooperatives) to contribute to the promotion of more energy-aware lifestyles. It analyzed necessary institutional frameworks as well as individual resources and motivations for engagement. Building on this analytical basis, it developed and implemented strategies for expanding the scope of existing initiatives and for transferring good practice models to further communities. Furthermore a policy paper was put together that provides recommendations for municipalities on how citizens' initiatives in energy issues can be supported.

Background

With rising efforts towards a transformation to more sustainable energy systems, the role and the responsibilities of individual end-users and ‘the general public’ are also receiving increasing attention. It is widely recognized that the development of more energy aware lifestyles will have to constitute an important part of a shift to more sustainable energy systems. There is widespread agreement that one central barrier to the development and diffusion of more energy aware lifestyles lies in the invisibility and intangibility of energy production and consumption in everyday activities. However, recent years have also seen the establishment of more direct engagement opportunities, such as participative forms in energy policy making, local or regional energy initiatives or community owned means of energy production. Hopes are now also being placed on such bottom-up initiatives to contribute to a number of positive effects in a transition to more sustainable energy systems.

Project Content

The project ‘BENE’ assessed the potential of active citizen engagement in energy issues to contribute to the promotion of more energy-aware lifestyles in Austria. It analysed necessary institutional frameworks as well as individual resources (e.g. financial, social, knowledge, time) and motivations (e.g. environmental values, societal norms, economic benefits) for engagement. Building on this analytical basis, it developed and implemented activation strategies for expanding the scope of existing initiatives and initiated a transfer of good practice models to further communities.

Methods

The project made use of a combination of quantitative and qualitative social science methods (interviews, focus groups, surveys) as well as participatory techniques (future workshop, stakeholder workshops, activating survey). The project followed a case-study based approach and cooperated closely with two different citizen initiatives in the field of energy, representing promising forms of participation and engagement in the energy sector (Ökoregion Kaindorf, green electricity trading platform and PV cooperatives initiated by AEE Vorarlberg).

The following activities took place in the case study regions:

1) Qualitative interviews with representatives of the respective initiatives to investigate the following issues: How have the initiatives developed up till now? What institutional framework conditions (regulations, support organisations, subsidy programs, available knowledge, etc.) are relevant to their activities and in what way? Are there social groups that are particularly active and if so why? What future development pathways do they see for the initiatives? What kind of institutional support would be valuable to them?

2) Interviews with 20 active citizens in both regions in order to analyse their energy consumption patterns. The results were be compared to the Austrian average, which was assessed within a former project (www.energisch.at)

3) Activating interviews in the Ökoregion Kaindorf in cooperation with the regional school.
 

4) Focus groups in Vorarlberg and the Ökoregion Kaindorf in order to discuss why people do or do not get engaged in energy-related initiatives.

5) In order to support the expansion of existing initiatives as well as their dissemination to further communities, a future workshop, a further activating workshop and two transfer workshops were organised.

Results

Results from the project show that collaborative initiatives are able to mobilise resources and to create opportunities for action that are not available to a single actor. Furthermore these initiatives by tendency have a positive effect on patterns of energy use of the people involved. However, households clearly are subject to structural constraints that limit the potential for developing sustainable patterns of energy use (e.g. dependency on cars in rural areas). Climate protection is an important motivating factor, but further aspects (enjoyment of working together with other people, financial return in the case community power plants) help to mobilise people that had not previously been particularly environmentally-conscious. The activating workshops and transfer workshops conducted within the project BENE initiated activities that are having an effect beyond the duration of the project (new projects within the Ökoregion Kaindorf, transfer of the green electricity trading platform from Vorarlberg to Styria, jointly owned PV plants initiated in two villages).
 

Project Partners:

IFZ SERI Ökoregion AEE
Inter-University Research Centre for Technology, Work and Culture Sustainable Europe Reseach Institute Ökoregion Kaindorf AEE Vorarlberg

Contact
: see Team




Klimafonds-LogoThis work was funded under the "Neue Energien 2020" programme of the Austrian climate and energy fund.




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