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SOCIAL INNOVATION IN ENERGY TRANSITIONS: Co-creating a rich understanding of the diversity, processes, contributions, success and future potentials of social innovation in the energy sector

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SONNET (SOCIAL INNOVATION IN ENERGY TRANSITIONS: Co-creating a rich understanding of the diversity, processes, contributions, success and future potentials of social innovation in the energy sector)

Reporting period: 2019-06-01 to 2020-11-30

"SONNET brings diverse groups together to make sense of how social innovation can bring about a more sustainable energy system in Europe. Six cities and six research institutions in Europe are using techniques – like ‘City Labs’, case studies, citizen surveys and more – to figure out how we can help make sure that social innovations accelerate the transition from the use of fossil fuels to a more sustainable energy system.

But what is ""SOCIAL INNOVATION"" anyway? People around the world are trying out new social practices – or reviving practices from the past – in the hope that those meet our needs better than existing solutions do. Those new (or revived) practices are social innovations. In the energy sector this can look like: energy cooperatives; new funding schemes for energy retrofits; crowdfunding for energy saving projects; etc.

SONNET’s overall aim is to generate novel understandings of the diversity, processes and contributions of social innovation in the energy sector, and critically evaluate and assess their success and future potential towards supporting sustainable transitions of energy systems. Through developing practical recommendations and tools, the project aims to build innovative capacities and strong networks of SIE actors, citizens and policymakers (EU, national, regional and local), identifying new market opportunities for SIE and removing impediments for the capacity of these multiple actors to increase their engagement with SIE’ thereby harnessing its potential to further transitions towards sustainable energy systems and meeting EU goals.

Key objectives of SONNET include:
1. Map the types of social innovations in energy systems (SIEs) in Europe, and organise them into common types.
2. Identify and analyse what conditions enable or impede SIE, such as financial conditions, cultural factors, political issues, and more.
3. Identify how different types of SIE make energy more secure, sustainable, competitive and affordable for Europe’s citizens, by creating a way to evaluate SIEs.
4. Assess the SIE types identified to see which have the potential to best support Europe in achieving its energy goals. Use this to develop business models and identify market opportunities that arise thanks to these SIEs.
5. Encourage successful SIE by co-creating strategies to that target governance arrangements, policies, and power dynamics.
6. Accelerate sustainable energy transitions by co-creating: SIEs in City Labs; a toolkit with practical recommendations to encourage successful SIEs; and workshops for those involved in SIE from policy makers to academics, students, and citizens.
nsitions by co-creating: SIEs in City Labs; a toolkit with practical recommendations to encourage successful SIEs; and workshops for those involved in SIE from policy makers to academics, students, and citizens."
Overview of the work that has been performed in the first 18 months of the SONNET project and the main results achieved so far:

1. Diversity of social innovation in the energy sector (SIE): We have mapped 500+ initiatives across eight EU countries. Based on theoretical considerations, we distinguished 12 ideal-type SIE and 18 empirical SIE clusters

2. Enabling and impeding conditions for SIE: Based on new methodological we have analysed already 12 case studies regarding historical and current processes of SIE-fields and their SIE-initiatives. We have also developed a transdisciplinary research protocol for the City Labs and their evaluation. A novel questionnaire will enable the assessment of citizens’ perceptions of four selected SIE types and acceptance of these. Finally, we have investigated the role of urban collaborative governance arrangements and policy networks in facilitating SIE.

3. Success and evaluation of SIE: We have developed and are applying a SIE evaluation scheme.

4. Future potential of different SIE types: For the SONNET citizen surveys, we have designed experiments on four SIE types to assess their future potential: investment and financing mechanisms in renewable electricity generation projects, participation in renewable energy cooperatives, energy gamification through mobile applications, and protest against specific energy pathways.

5. Encourage successful SIE: We have been collecting rich data on governance arrangements, policy networks, power and policy making as basis for deriving policy strategies.

6. Accelerate sustainable energy transitions: We have developed and implemented a co-creation and dissemination strategy, and set up a dedicated website, social media channels, conducted three webinars, published the first energy read and infographic, produced postcards, and contributed to public events.
Conceptual advances:
1. Developing a novel interdisciplinary conceptual framework by integrating insights from sustainability transition studies, social innovation research and energy research in social sciences.
2. Developing a novel SIE typology capturing the diversity of social innovation in the energy sector.

Methodological advances:
1. Combining state of the art innovation history analysis with recent advances in turning point analysis.
2. Shedding light on SIE not only through cutting edge qualitative case study research but complementing it in a holistic way with a quantitative stated preference approach using discrete choice modelling.
3. Developing both historical, unfolding and forward-looking analysis through case studies, city labs and citizen surveys.
4. Developing a comprehensive evaluation scheme integrating and advancing SMART energy system indicators.
5. Systematically combining academic and practitioner expertise in a truly transdisciplinary approach.

Empirical advances:
1. First comprehensive mapping of the diversity of SIE in Europe.
2. Data collection for unique in-depth insights on a range of SIE within six European countries and six urban areas.
3. Ongoing co-creation by partnering with six SONNET cities.

The SONNET team expects that the analysis of the data collected during the first 18 months of the project will allow for significant advances beyond the state of the art.

We will harness our conceptual and methodological groundwork through generating novel empirical insights that will inform practical recommendations to policy makers, SIE initiatives and business networks as well as enable the refinement of our conceptual framework and the general understanding of the role of social innovation in accelerating sustainable energy transitions.
makers, SIE initiatives and business networks as well as enable the refinement of our conceptual framework and the general understanding of the role of social innovation in accelerating sustainable energy transitions.
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