Project deliverable Open Access

Synthesis of socio-economic, technical, market and policy analyses

Dunphy, Niall; Revez, Alexandra; Gaffney, Christine; Lennon, Breffní; Sanvicente, Estibaliz; Landini, Alberto; Morrissey, John

The information presented in this deliverable summarises the outputs from three distinct strands of research carried out for the ENTRUST Horizon 2020 research project. This research is exploring the energy system from multiple perspectives. They include the more traditional, techno-centric market approach; and public policy oriented appraisals; in addition to applying innovative engagements that capture human-centred perspectives of people experiencing the intersecting nexuses that comprise the energy system.

Aim

Decisions on how the energy system is transitioning to low-carbon configurations will have, and is having, very real impacts on society and how people live their lives. In order to understand these societal intersections with the material configurations of the energy system, ENTRUST has sought to identify where many of these intersections arise, how they are created and then negotiated, within a complex nexus of choices, freedoms and controls that comprise our shared relationships with energy and the structures that support it. The objective of this document is to integrate the findings arising from this research and to feed into:

  • ongoing collaborations with the project’s six case-study communities; to further
  • explore the potential of novel energy transition pathways; and
  • to develop content for the forthcoming Energy Communities knowledge and communication platform.

The research discussed in the document was conducted for three work packages (WPs), as outlined below, and is presented here using a combined approach that draws synergies between the various strands discussed within each WP, viz.,

  • Work Package 2: Mapping of the Energy System;
  • Work Package 3: Socio-demographic Analysis;
  • Work Package 4: Policy Analysis.

In addition to summarising these reports, the authors present the findings from each within at thematic synthesis of the issues identified across the three WPs, which are organised within following four key pillars:

  • Technological characterisation;
  • Business model perspectives;
  • Energy Policy;
  • Energy and the citizenry.

Observations and conclusions

The deliverables summarised in this report represent a substantial body of work and their findings clearly demonstrate that it is no longer feasible to differentiate the “social” from the “technical” dimension of the energy system and still have a just and sustainable energy transition. We acknowledge that the creation of a 

sustainable energy pathway necessarily involves the development and mobilisation of a complex array of contributing factors which are themselves complex and have multiple socio-environmental implications. As such, understanding this process involves multiple approaches and disciplines. This research offers a wealth of deep, rich data and information from the social sciences that help those driving the energy transition construct and frame this process in a more equitable way than it potentially has been heretofore.

  • Plans to decarbonise the energy system in a European context require extensive development and growth of alternative energy sources and understanding what has been achieved to date in this context is critical to future development.
  • The EU, as an influential international player, has helped mediate visions for the future of the energy system. However, large disarticulations remain with regards to how member states envision their path to sustainability.
  • Strong consensus exits in using renewable energy to achieve sustainability goals. However, there remain a number of obstacles which have prevented these alternatives becoming the “game changers” they potentially can be.
  • Evidence from this research suggests that progress, relative to the decarbonisation of the energy system in Europe, has not met desired targets and expectations. For instance, there are large differences in the way energy sustainability is understood and interpreted by people at national level. For instance, the liberalisation model, which is largely supported at EU level, has been (re)interpreted by member states to fit national agendas causing dissonant outcomes at the supranational level.
  • Public engagement with these shifting energy landscapes is telling in a number of ways. For instance, public attitudes to energy technologies are mediated by a number of socio-demographic and place- based factors. Gender, age, socio-economic and community contexts are important variables when understanding public perceptions of the different energy sources available. For instance, attitudes towards nuclear energy can vary based on gender and community contexts according to our research.
  • These differences, often operate in an interlinked manner and are also evident in the way people engage with energy in their everyday lives. The making of spaces, in particular the making of home is strongly determined by the roles individuals engage with over the course of their lives – such as mothers, fathers, carers, guardians, independent elders – that can lead to differing understandings of what energy means to them.

These insights are valuable for understanding the potential impacts that the energy transition can, and will, have on different segments of the population. Technological, market and policy changes have different effects at local level for different cohorts of people. Therefore, there are very real potentials for creating new forms of social exclusion from emerging energy systems that fail to recognise the differentiated ways in which people experience and ultimately engage with them.

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