VUB project RENAISSANCE shows that energy transition can be done locally with good guidance
Researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in cooperation with research and consultancy firm Deep Blue conducted a survey on the acceptance of clean technologies and how citizens would feel being both consumer and producer (prosumer) of renewable energy in their own local community. It showed that less harmful emissions and lower cost of energy are perceived as the main benefits of renewables. But potential prosumers need high levels of transparency on costs of energy production systems and reassurance on health and safety implications before joining an energy community initiative.
"The survey shows that people are ready for an energy transition, with new ways of producing and sharing energy within communities, despite their low awareness of its complexity. However, a better two-way communication between institutions and citizens is required to ease the process. This increses knowledge on measures and policies and created more willingness to adopt such new systems. A leading role is clearly expected from policy makers in this", says VUB professor Thierry Coosemans, who leads the European RENAISSANCE project at the VUB research centre MOBI.
The European RENAISSANCE project was launched with the aim of simulating renewable energy sharing and exploring what such energy communities might look like in real life. The RENAISSANCE Consortium investigated European citizens' awareness and expectations concerning various business models in the energy market. To what extent are Europeans awre of the impact energy production has on the environment and society? Are people willing to adjusr their daily energy consumption behavior to match production, and do they see themselves becoming prosumers. what are their main motivations, and what does their ideal energy future look like? These were some of the main research questions.
The survey was distributed among more than 200 different RENAISSANCE members, who are European citizens, policy makers and energy producers already involved in the project and act as a feedback and indicator group. Despite the pandemic, the survey revealed climate change remains their main reason of concern.
Even among these already highly motivated and informed citizens, the survey results indicate a lack of communication between citizens, European regulators and national or regional authorities on renewable energy. "This poses a problem as respondents are convinced that it is mainly the responsibility of policy makes and energy producers to promote an energy revolution towards renewable enrgy sources. Communication is a key element in this", says Rebecca Hueting, Sustainable Energy and Mobility Researcher at Deep Blue.
When considering the possibility of installing small energy production systems on their property or in their neighborhood, respondents find environmental benefits and lower energy bills to be a main driver. A high maintenance cost, safety issues and potential visual and noise disturbance safety issues are their main fears. The main elements preventing respondents to switch to a renewable energy only provider turn out to be the possible hidden costs, followed by transparency issues and a low level of service. "This suggests that such solutions would be chosen more if, for example, a maintenance service was also offered. Respondents would only accepts a local renewable energy production plant of a high level of transparency in terms of costs, health and safety effects is ensured.", adds Alessandra Tedeschi of Deep Blue.
Finally, no energy transition is possible without the implementation of innovative energy business models in a collaboration between local governments, energy market actors and consumers. "Since technologies such as blockchain and smart contracts are now sufficiently developed, they can facilitate the acceptance by end users. The time seems ripe for an energy transition, and it's up to policy makers and regulators to pick up the pace", Tedechi says. "If policy makers would highlight successful examples of local initiatives more and promote new renewable energy solutions through clear communication, a large-scale short-term uptake is certainly possible. People are ready for it."
The survey on social Acceptance was developed to sytematically collect feedback from stakeholders within RENAISSANCE, particularly in the four pilot projects in Greece, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands. It will be administered three times during the RENAISSANCE project and th results will be used to support continuous improvements in the design and implementation strategy of RENAISSANCE's proposed solutions for local energy communities. In addition, the results obtained will also be a guideline for the projectrs communication strategy.