Background - 27.06.2022 - 00:00 

REMforum: The energy transition needs social acceptance

The REMforum 2022 was held under the motto "Managing the dynamics of social acceptance". Experts from practice, science and politics exchanged the latest findings from research and discussed new ideas for managing renewable energies at SQUARE.

27 June 2022. In his welcoming remarks, Prof. Dr. Rolf Wüstenhagen reminded the audience that the social acceptance of renewable energies has been a research topic at the Chair of Renewable Energy Management (IWÖ-HSG) since 2006. Currently, the war in Ukraine and the desire of many people to reduce their dependence on Russia have given the energy transition a boost. In combination with the urgency of climate change, the double crisis requires an acceleration of change. But this also brings social acceptance into focus. "Projects for renewable infrastructures as well as ambitious energy and climate policy measures often meet with local resistance," emphasised the professor for renewable energy management. It is important to understand the dynamics of social acceptance in order to help the energy transition succeed, he said.

REMForum 2022

Roots and causes of resistance

The REMforum devoted a keynote lecture and three panel discussions to the topic with experts who deal with social acceptance in different countries and different organisations. Guest speaker Prof. Dr. Geraint Ellis from Queen's University Belfast presented findings from the four-year Horizon 2020 research project Mistral in his keynote speech. It traces the roots and causes of resistance to renewable energy projects. "Social acceptance is dynamic and has temporal effects. The status quo determines the conditions for acceptance and makes system change more difficult," the guest speaker explained.

It is important to understand that its not just technology that plays a significant role in the implementation of projects. Where they are located and emotions are just as decisive. "The main concerns about wind energy vary from country to country, but the environmental and visual impacts are usually of equal importance," Geraint Ellis emphasised. That is why progress needs reflection. The role of individuals in this change has to be recognised, no one should be left behind. An important aspect is the transition period. For example, there must be alternative ways to own renewable resources, including social property rights.

The value of strong citizen participation

The first round of discussion, chaired by SRF's Arthur Honnegger, focused on how participation can increase community acceptance of renewable energy projects. Dr. Frank Dumeier, CEO WEB Windenergie AG from Austria, and Thomas Tribelhorn, CEO ADEV Energiegenossenschaft from Switzerland, both explained that their companies put a lot of emphasis on strong citizen participation. In any project, they said, it is important to take into account the concerns and needs of the local region, to provide comprehensive information and transparency, and also to demonstrate the benefits of a project for the community.

Ben Hoen, research scientist at Berkeley Lab in the USA, stressed that issues around fairness, participation and trust strongly influence the acceptance of a project. If citizens are consulted and listened to, attitudes towards planned wind projects improve. HSG Master's student Céline Pfister presented the HSG Solar Community, which aims to install solar systems on the roofs of the University of St.Gallen campus. The student-led project uses crowdfunding so that as many interested people as possible can make a financial contribution to reducing the University's carbon footprint.

The second panel included Prof. Jeremy M. Firestone from the University of Delaware in the USA, Hanne May from the German Energy Agency and Prof. Dr. Gabriele Spilker from the University of Konstanz. The question of how to increase interest in renewable energies is not easy to answer, explained Gabriele Spilker. "For example, does it make sense to provide people with more information about climate change? Or does it achieve exactly the opposite and people become even more withdrawn?"

Hanne May was also convinced that there is not just one approach to increasing acceptance. "There needs to be a whole bouquet of activities and measures, from comprehensive participation in project planning, to transparent, fast and uniform approval procedures, the involvement of local stakeholders in projects, to the financial participation of citizens and communities in the proceeds or other economic benefits for the projects' neighbours." Jeremy Firestone brought up the quality of information about renewable energy. Deliberately spread misinformation by opponents of the energy transition and fossil fuel lobbyists works against social acceptance. It is important to take them seriously and provide answers to them.

REMForum 2022

Can the energy transition succeed?

Bringing the REMforum to a close, the third panel discussion raised the question of how renewable energies will be accepted as a solution for energy security. The three panellists Natalie Sleeman, First Counsellor of the EU Delegation in Bern, Marina Weisband, psychologist and participation educator from Germany and Prof. Charlie Wilson from Oriel College in Oxford, expressed cautious optimism that the energy transition will succeed. "If the world turns to renewable energies, the power base of all dictators whose states live on fossil raw materials will disappear," Marina Weisband expressed her conviction. Charlie Wilson addressed the enormous price increase in the energy sector caused by the war in Ukraine. This price shock would convince more people to push for the energy transition. Although Switzerland is a small country, it plays an important role in the Green Deal, Natalie Sleeman stressed.

REMForum 2022

From solar mobility to heat pumps

The programme of the REMforum also included four workshops that discussed questions on a wide range of renewable energy topics. The first focused on heat pumps. Participants discussed whether heat pump leasing could eliminate the need for initial investment, reduce the complexity of projects and lower the risks for end users. The second workshop presented technologies that contribute to achieving carbon neutrality in the agricultural sector. The installation of PV systems and e-tractors were keywords in this regard.

The participants of the third workshop learned how industrial and commercial areas can become local energy systems or "B2B energy communities" with new technologies. The fourth topic dealt with intelligent solar mobility as one of the key solutions for achieving the Swiss climate goals in the two sectors of energy and transport. Questions around charging and the flexible energy needs of electric cars characterised this workshop. 

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