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Social Sciences and Humanities in Energy Research: A holistic approach to decarbonising the EU’s energy system

Innovation in clean energy technology is integral to achieving the EU’s ambitious goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. To be ultimately successful, the EU must take a holistic approach, accounting for social innovation and participation of all stakeholders in the energy transition. This includes engaging consumers, households and EU citizens to enable changes in lifestyles and behaviours, and initiating dialogues with decision-makers in politics, academia and industry. This Results Pack showcases nine EU-funded projects that focus on the social and political issues that need to be addressed to decarbonise the EU’s energy system.

Climate Change and Environment
Society
Energy

The European Green Deal, presented by the European Commission in December 2019, has the ambitious goal of making Europe the first climate-neutral continent. It lays out a new growth strategy to build a fair, resource-efficient and competitive economy where net emissions of greenhouse gases are reduced to zero by 2050.

Citizen focus in transition to zero-carbon economy

The production and use of energy account for more than 75 % of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. Decarbonising the EU’s energy system is therefore a central pillar of the Green Deal. While the transition to a clean energy system requires further scaling up of technological innovations in energy, buildings, transport, industry and agriculture sectors, these new technologies and ambitious strategies need to be embraced by citizens to have the desired impact. The European Green Deal puts people first, recognising the need for active public participation and confidence in the transition to make it a reality. It also accounts for the diversity of local, regional and national conditions and approaches that impact and shape the road to a zero-carbon economy. However, energy choices are not always rational and are therefore difficult to predict. More research is needed to understand the factors that drive individual and collective energy choices and energy-related consumer behaviour, the political, cultural, institutional and organisational governance frameworks that determine citizen participation, and the changing roles particularly of consumers and ‘prosumers’ in the energy system.

EU projects provide socioeconomic insights for future energy policies

The nine EU-funded projects featured in this Results Pack focus on the interdisciplinary and cross-cutting issues that need to be investigated to decarbonise the EU’s energy system. This includes questions relating to socioeconomic, gender, sociocultural and socio-political aspects of the energy transition, as well as to educational needs of the future workforce. Understanding the factors and incentives that drive individual and collective energy choices is central to enabling policymakers to craft targeted actions and strategies that encourage consumers to make more sustainable choices. The ECHOES project developed the innovative theoretical concepts of ‘energy collectives’ and ‘energy memories’ and studied their impact on smart energy technologies, electric mobility and energy-efficient buildings. Taking a bottom-up approach, ENABLE.EU conducted household surveys and other user-based exercises to increase understanding of the factors that drive energy choices in daily life as well as shed light on the main bottlenecks that discourage energy transitions. In a similar vein, using an ‘Energy Living Labs’ approach, the ENERGISE project developed and tested options for a bottom-up transformation of energy use in households and communities throughout Europe. The SMARTEES project took a closer look at the concept of social energy innovations and how they evolve over time, based on the experience of 10 European cities and islands. Focusing on consumers’ choice of household appliances, the CHEETAH project used discreet choice experiments to understand how policy interventions break down barriers to energy efficient consumer choices. Taking a similar approach, PENNY studied the psychological, social, economic and financial factors that influence energy efficiency in the residential sector, addressing two distinct consumer decisions: energy usage and adoption of energy-efficient products. Focusing specifically on labelling for energy class, the CONSEED project explored whether providing energy information in monetary terms would encourage people to buy more energy-efficient products. For the PROSEU project, prosumers – people who produce and consume their own renewable energy – can play a key role in the EU’s transition to a society based on renewable energy sources (RESs). Project partners from across Europe aimed to determine which incentive structures will make the mainstreaming of RES prosumerism possible. Finally, the ASSET project addressed the challenge of a rapidly evolving energy sector that requires creating new job opportunities, re-skilling the workforce, and the development of new interdisciplinary skills and expertise.

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