Fostering Energy Revolutions in Cold Winters: Clean Energy Policy Insights from the Irish National Energy Research & Policy Conference

RINNO’s Antonia Egli recently joined the virtual Irish National Energy Research and Policy Conference aimed at the policy makers, academic experts, and energy industry and community representatives tasked with achieving Ireland’s clean energy goals through energy research and policy.

The gap between the effects of climate change and the impact of climate solutions is widening for the worse. Despite ongoing pledges and public sector efforts to curb global warming, 2022 alone has experienced the second largest increase in CO2 emissions in history. Societies gradually emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic are now feeling the first symptoms of a challenging winter period as energy costs surge and inflation becomes evident in supermarket aisles. Opinions towards climate solutions are increasingly impacted by immediate and oftentimes forced adjustments to consumer habits, such as reducing energy usage or working under the risk of power outages and gas shortages.

Energy Transitions are Inherently Complex

Transitioning into a society that can make use of sustainable energy systems and practices requires not only innovation, but social, behavioural, and organisational change. The heart of the matter therefore lies in fostering sociological and technological development that is able to effectively reap the benefits of urgently needed energy transitions.

“We don’t only need to understand the technologies and economics […], but also the sociological influences when we formulate our decisions. Energy transitions are social transitions.

Professor Patrick Devine-Wright, Professor in Human Geography, University of Exeter

To understand the social, political, and cultural context of energy transitions, we need to take a closer look at public perceptions and attitudes towards energy trends like net-zero energy consumption and low-carbon lifestyle changes like plant-based diets or green energy usage. As, consumer preferences shift over time, Dr Christina Demski (Reader in Environmental Psychology, University of Bath) suggests that it is particularly important to understand the values and experiences which inform preferences, rather than analysing preferences per se.

What is Fair in Climate Change?

One example of examining how consumer preferences are shaped is taking a closer look at perceived fairness. Perceived fairness describes the degree to which consumers believe that the financial and organisational burdens and benefits of climate solutions are distributed equally. Dr Demski divides this into distributive justice, or the equal distribution of costs and benefits, and procedural justice, which involves levels of transparency within decision-making processes surrounding climate solutions.

Effective climate policy is policy that (1) is based on public values and experiences over time and (2) fosters public engagement at multiple levels. This requires including citizens in decision-making, delivering climate solutions that cater to perceptions of distributive and procedural justice, and supporting long-term policymaking that is responsive to social values.

Implementing Just Clean Energy Policy

Over a third of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions result from energy generation. Clean energy policy, therefore, support generating energy through green alternatives, i.e. renewable energy sources like solar, wind, or hydropower, rather than by burning fossil fuels. Clean energy policy is further tasked with de-incentivising the use of coal, oil, and gas.

An example for an application of Dr Demski’s research on consumer preferences is given within the context of communities engaged in offshore energy. Stereotypically, one would think that this particular energy source is developed without the supervision of those directly impacted by its outcomes due to its geographical distance from consumers. However, Dr Claire Haggett (Senior Lecturer, University of Edinburgh) highlights that forcing things through without societal backing creates wider objections, cynicism, and distrust amongst citizens. She suggests that engaging Irish communities with offshore energy sources today makes up a majority of the clean energy policy initiatives. This includes recognising those affected, implementing procedural justice throughout planning and implementation, and equally distributing the cost and benefits that come from such clean energy sources.

The importance of transparent community engagement in clean energy policy mirrors how critically deep renovation projects depend on stakeholder consultation. Stakeholders in this case shift from civilian consumers to the likes of energy solutions and construction technology providers, housing development and construction companies, building owners, and occupants. For this reason and to meet the needs of such a wide range of stakeholders with varying backgrounds and skill levels, RINNO has been tasked with developing an Open Renovation Platform for the integrated design and delivery of deep renovation projects based on multi-stakeholder collaboration. More details on the project’s developing platform can be found here – for more information on clean energy policy, visit the National Energy Research Database and browse 250 active energy research projects.

RINNO is a Horizon 2020 project that aims to considerably accelerate the rate of deep renovation in the EU by reducing the time, effort, and costs involved in deep renovation projects. In a collaborative effort of 17 partners from industry and academia, RINNO will deliver an open renovation platform for the integrated design and delivery of deep renovation projects.

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