New framework to analyse social innovation in renewable energy

Researchers have constructed a ‘toolkit’ to increase the attention given to alternative approaches for enhancing the energy transition and highlighting the multiple benefits of social innovation.

What is social innovation?

Social innovation (SI) in the energy sector includes renewable energy communities, energy aggregators, and crowdfunding projects. It also has the potential to play an important role both in the energy transition process, and in reaching the goals set in the European Green Deal.

SI is considered to be one of the critical key instruments required to increase energy democracy, citizen participation, and inclusion in the energy transition. Furthermore, in order for the governments and authorities to support this, they need to be able to assess the benefits accurately. This stresses the importance of empirical data that is easy to understand by all parties it is related to, such as, important stakeholders, decision makers, and the general public.

How does the ‘toolkit’ help?

Scientists created the toolkit with the intention of increasing the attention given to alternative approaches, and to enhance the energy transition by providing stakeholders involved in the policy something to highlight the multiple advantages of social innovations. As well as this, the toolkit is expected to further the knowledge of those concerned, and to best practice exchange within and across countries.

Through research based on the work of a variety of empirical studies and impact assessments of social innovation in the energy sector, scientists found it most beneficial to present the toolkit in the form of taxonomy for measuring the impacts of social innovations.

Additionally, to make preliminary use of the taxonomy case study partners from the SocialRES project were asked to fill out the taxonomy developed by researchers as part of this paper. This meant that scientists could emphasise some of the impacts that the project partners have had, and to further present empirical evidence of the impacts of social innovations.

What would application of this toolkit mean for social innovation?

Applying the taxonomy to the cases illustrates how social innovations in the energy sector can be beneficial to the local environment, economy, and society; these results mirror those collected from earlier studies on the impacts of social innovations. Moreover, it portrays that not all items of the taxonomy are applicable to every level and case, but rather that depending on the scope of the analysis, different items can therefore play a role.

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