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European Network for Research, Good Practice and Innovation for Sustainable Energy

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ENERGISE (European Network for Research, Good Practice and Innovation for Sustainable Energy)

Reporting period: 2018-06-01 to 2019-11-30

We are living in a rapidly changing world, where complex societal challenges such as climate change, inequalities, and unsustainable resource use are putting unprecedented pressures on our social and environmental systems. Addressing these urgent challenges requires radical changes in patterns of production and consumption at a pace and scale beyond what has been previously achieved. More than ever, robust scientific research and practice on transformational change is needed to promote a societal shift toward sustainable practices. It is now widely acknowledged that technological advancement by itself is not going to deliver the reductions in carbon emissions required. Social and cultural change is and will be a key component in promoting a sustainable future.

The ENERGISE project makes an important contribution to understanding what role households can play in transformations towards using energy more sustainably in domestic spaces. ENERGISE develops a Living Labs approach to directly observe existing practices related to energy consumption in a real-world setting and to test both household and community-level initiatives to reduce energy use. Data collection before, during and after the implementation of 16 Living Labs in 8 partner countries is instrumental in contributing to the design and assessment of future energy consumption initiatives across Europe.

To provide policymakers, practitioners, businesses, academics, communities and householders with social science led recommendations for policy and practice, ENERGISE pursues five key objectives:
1. Move beyond state-of-the-art sustainable consumption research by developing an innovative theoretical framework that fuses social practice and energy cultures approaches
2. Assess and compare the impact of European energy consumption reduction initiatives
3. Significantly advance the use of Living Lab techniques for researching and transforming energy consumption practices
4. Produce new research-led insights into the role of routines and ruptures in shifting energy use towards greater sustainability
5. Enhance multi-way engagement with stakeholders and effectively transfer ENERGISE outputs to further the implementation of the Energy Union
Working directly with academics, householders, practitioners, businesses and policy-makers, the project has been instrumental in developing a greater understanding of the social dimension of energy use. Throughout the ENERGISE project, we have drawn on cutting-edge social scientific methods and techniques to help us develop a better understanding of how and in what way people use energy, with specific focus on thermal comfort (heating homes) and cleanliness (washing laundry). Our work is underpinned by a novel theoretical framework developed for the project as well as future work that considers social practices and cultural change as key ingredients in a successful energy transition. Guided by the ENERGISE conceptual framework, we began by analysing over 1000 existing sustainable energy consumption initiatives focusing on households across 30 European countries, toward developing innovative typologies and informing the empirical component of our project. We then adopted a ‘Living Lab’ approach working directly with over 300 households across 8 European countries. Through the ENERGISE Living Labs, we engaged households in participatory research and deliberations in order to challenge and contest social norms and habitual practices tied up with energy usage, with the overall aim of adopting more sustainable practices and documenting how change comes about in different social and cultural contexts. Overall, we found that through the ELLs, and for most of the households across Europe who participated in the study, reducing indoor temperatures by 1°C in the heating season and reducing laundry by one cycle per week is possible, without compromising convenience and comfort.

ENERGISE provides recommendations formulated for various stakeholders, including lessons learned for EU and national policy for deploying and/or upscaling ENERGISE Living Labs (ELLs) as well as researchers and practitioners for planning and implementing sustainable lifestyle projects. The findings of the project have been disseminated to a variety of stakeholders. Engagement with the scientific community has been conducted through discussion with other researchers about the project, conference presentations, workshops and clustering events, peer-reviewed publications, via social media, the ENERGISE newsletters and other targeted newsletters. ENERGISE has engaged with industry through ENERGISE newsletters and via the Expert Panel members’ networks, and with policy-makers through newsletters, online database dissemination, personal engagement with local policy makers, invited presentations and participation in workshops. ENERGISE engages with civil society, the media and the general public via press release distribution, specific Listservs, organised meetings, ENERGISE newsletters, flyers, ELL participation and dissemination, ELL implementing partners, social media and website visits.
Innovation in ENERGISE is realised through the development and delivery of 1) a new theoretical framework, which also underpins typologies of innovative energy initiatives; 2) novel approaches to Living Labs, which includes a multi-scalar approach to empirical research, covering local, regional, national and EU levels; 3) understanding routines and ruptures in shifting energy use, and; 4) advancing the Energy Union through knowledge exchange, including the identification of new opportunities for local energy transitions and their upscaling potential.

Socio-economic impacts of the project include:
• Improved understanding of a range of factors impacting on household energy practices.
• Enhanced understanding of reductions in energy use through individual-level and community-based interventions and their connections with wider energy cultures.
• Contribution to knowledge of what kinds of energy initiatives ‘work’, where, with what degree of success, and why.
• Improved exploitation of social-scientific evidence to address challenges to energy transition related to social acceptability.

Reflecting on what impact the ENERGISE project and findings might have for the European Union and specifically the EU’s Energy Union Strategy, the project:
• Identifies and demonstrates that individual and collective practices and approaches can reduce dependency on imported energy and diversify supply.
• Informs policy-making on the role, relative significance and interactions of technological, market, socio-economic, gender and behavioural factors conducive to, or inhibitive of, such practices and approaches.
• Identifies policy implications and options at national and EU levels that will foster amplification of such practices and approaches.
• Identifies and exhibits individual and collective practices and approaches that reduce dependency on high-carbon energy sources, including an examination of social acceptability issues, which can delay or prevent decarbonisation.
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