The socio-economic barriers

by Paul Tobin [GECO Global]

Contributors: Christophe Dromacque [GECO], Christina Papadimitriou [UCY], Sotiris Tsakanikas [VERD], Luis Viguer [ETRA I+D], Fenareti Lampathaki [Suite 5]

The techno-centric approach to R&D projects in the energy sector has left the crucial factor of socioeconomics underappreciated. This is demonstrated by the existence of terms such as social acceptance. This term implies that the goal of an R&D project is to find a way for society to accept the technological changes that are to be implemented for the energy transition.

In truth, the transition to a decentralised renewable energy system requires the participation of an increased number of stakeholders, end-users and citizens, as well as consideration for local context and societal structure. Consequently, it is imperative to recognise the importance of the social and economic aspects such as the social policy and dynamics, the related costs and benefits of a new system to each individual stakeholder as well as their behaviours, motivations and attitudes towards the energy system and the impending transition.

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Having a strong focus on the socioeconomic factors is key when identifying the potential barriers to innovation, and this is the methodology that was adopted in the SYNERGY project. To ensure no stone was left unturned, a granular approach to investigating the socioeconomic barriers was undertaken to identify specific barriers. Past research has often fallen into the trap of looking at the socioeconomic barriers through too broad a scope. For example, the barrier of public opposition to RES has been reduced to NIMBYism, when in fact there are several motivations beyond NIMBY which include issues such as health, landscape, scale of development and participation, to name but a few. Similarly, consumer motivations should not be restricted to a preference for lowering costs and maximising monetary benefits, although this is likely true, it only scratches the surface of true attitudes and motivations.

Exploring the socioeconomic barriers in SYNERGY comprised of conducting a literature review of existing research to identify all the relevant obstacles. This expedition into the socioeconomic landscape revealed a variety of potential barriers rooted in psychological factors, needs and abilities and issues related to the energy system.

Discovering all the relevant obstacles is informative at a high-level, however, bringing the knowledge to the ground level is crucial for the success of an R&D project. In SYNERGY, by presenting the barriers to real market actors involved in pilot sites implementing the SYNERGY solutions, we could clarify each individual barrier’s potential impact. More specifically, the research undertaken as part of SYNERGY revealed that the biggest concerns experienced by stakeholders related to:

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1.No consumer awareness of benefits related to innovation, and the opportunities of cost-saving and revenue generation.

2.Neglecting the value of system flexibility in favour of a centralised system.

3.The exclusion of certain societal groups, such as the elderly and other vulnerable consumers or those with limited access to services.

The barriers that are considered the most impactful are important to identify but equally important is not to assume these barriers are relevant for various environments in which the innovation is implemented. A closer look at the most impactful barriers reveals that the effect of these barriers varies across the different pilot sites in SYNERGY.

The quantitative investigation informs us which are the most impactful barriers and how they affect different regions/pilot sites. To build on this, follow-up interviews were conducted to develop a deeper understanding of why certain barriers are considered as major obstacles to innovation. In addition to providing further insight, the interviews also provided an opportunity to investigate if these potential barriers could be addressed by the solutions being developed in the SYNERGY project. The value of the interview process is reflected in the insightful remarks on the highly impactful barriers such as…

Data-driven innovation needs to account for the cost of accessing external assets which require further infrastructure to enable data sharing.

Data quality, accuracy and multi-source compatibility are blocking the identification of the value of data. Inter-organisation data linking is not always exploited.

Existing frameworks do not promote nor facilitate regulatory-driven innovation. Therefore, it is hard for regulated entities and aggregators to develop the necessary skills and processes.

Users are not usually positive in sharing their data if their use is not clearly anonymised and/or remunerated.

There is a necessity for developing new technologies and considering the business market when integrating new innovations. However, the integration of innovation should be considered a socioeconomic process, not just a technological one. The research conducted as part of SYNERGY has shown that assessing these barriers and taking a close look into the reasons behind them is essential to understand their impact and how they fit with the solutions being developed in an R&D project.

For more information on the analysis of the socioeconomic barriers in SYNERGY, you can read our executive summary from the deliverable D2.1 HERE.