Social innovations vital for successful energy transition

A unique collaboration between NWO and the Dutch provinces has started in the research programme Societal Aspects of the Regional Energy Transition (MARET).

11 April 2019

Which social innovations are needed to realise a successful energy transition? This is a question that social sciences and humanities research can answer says Paulien Herder, Professor of Energy Systems at Delft University of Technology, member of the top team of the Top Sector Energy, and initiator of the research programme Societal Aspects of the Regional Energy Transition (MARET). ‘At present, the energy transition is still mainly perceived as a technical challenge, and it therefore misses the connection with society. As a result of that resistance has arisen and the energy transition has not been successful enough to date.’

Annemieke Traag (provincial executive member Overijssel) presents the description of MARET to Paulien Herder (Professor at Delft University of Technology and member of the top team Energy). Photo: Jenny van Bremen-Boom/NWOAnnemieke Traag (provincial executive member Overijssel) presents the description of MARET to Paulien Herder (Professor at Delft University of Technology and member of the top team Energy). Photo: Jenny van Bremen-Boom/NWO

During a well-attended kick-off and matchmaking meeting on 2 April the partnership programme of NWO, five Dutch provinces and the National Programme Regional Energy Strategies (NP RES) for research into Societal Aspects of the Regional Energy Transition (MARET) was launched. Herder explains: ‘The energy transition is still mainly perceived as a technical challenge and an important question is how these technical solutions can also work in practice, when people are concerned about the costs of the energy transition or angry about the arrival of wind turbines. There is a lot of practical experience, but now we want to initiate social sciences and humanities research into Dutch regional practice to investigate which social innovations are needed and how we can realise these.’

Energy neutral in 2050

The Netherlands has set itself the target of being energy neutral in 2050. All regions are now working on a regional energy strategy (RES). The provinces play a crucial role in the regional energy strategy. This has a large impact on society with consequences for, amongst other things, the living environment, the economy, the employment market and the private lives of citizens. In recent years, many initiatives have been taken at a regional level to realise a more sustainable energy system. Examples are preparations for neighbourhoods that do not use natural gas, the setting up of local energy cooperatives and the establishment of funds for sustainable initiatives from companies and citizens. Consequently, the challenges of the energy transition are not just technical in nature but have a societal dimension too.

Scientific research will facilitate a successful energy transition

Throughout the Netherlands, investments are being made in citizen participation, in involving and utilising energy cooperatives, in the smart combining of innovation and energy transition, and in the development of new policy and knowledge infrastructures. However, so far too little use has been made of the scientific knowledge about what does and does not work, says Annemieke Traag, a provincial executive member in the province of Overijssel. The province of Overijssel is a partner in, and co-funder of, the programme with two research projects. ‘As a province, we are not just providing funding, but are also involved as a societal partner. This is something of an adventure for us because the programme concerns action research. Which tools will this research yield for new policy? Which knowledge can we already use during the realisation of the research? And are we as a province actually capable of implementing scientific knowledge in practice?’

Research will begin at the start of 2020

During the kick-off meeting, researchers and provinces could get acquainted with each other and exchange initial ideas about possible collaboration. Herder: ‘We are looking forward to the project proposals (pre-proposals) for this research programme. These can be submitted to NWO until the deadline of 14 May 2019.’

About MARET

MARET is a unique collaboration between the provinces of Groningen, North Brabant, Overijssel, Zeeland and South Holland, the NP RES and NWO. In the programme, 2.5 million euros has been made available for scientific research linked to regional practical implementation. Jeanet Bruil, head of Collaborative Initiatives of the NWO Domain Social Sciences and Humanities, is very pleased with the collaboration: ‘MARET is a superb opportunity to do research that makes a real difference in the region and it is therefore fantastic that these provinces have demonstrated their commitment to this programme.’

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Source: NWO