Breaking the Rules! Energy Transitions as Social Innovations
The conference of the Leibniz Research Alliance on Energy Transitions invites international scholars to discuss social innovations in the context of energy transitions, to reflect their meaning for educational and participatory practices, and to spark a debate about the social aspects inherent in these innovations.
The challenge of developing clean energy systems is often perceived first and foremost as a question of technical and infrastructural innovation. In many countries, major efforts are currently being put into developing more efficient renewable energy generation plants, more effective energy storage capacities, higher grid flexibility, more efficient power conversion processes, and novel ways to electrify adjacent sectors, for example the transportation and the heat sectors. More often than not, however, these technological challenges are not the greatest barrier for system innovation. Instead, energy transitions require major innovations in the social and educational realms.
This range of possible pathways is spurring the imagination and the creativity of individual entrepreneurs, large companies, collectives, utilities, and many more. At the same time, these highly innovative dynamics are being resisted by incumbents and increasingly also by local protest groups. The German Energiewende, which was long known for instigating the innovative dynamics of hundreds of citizen-led energy initiatives throughout the country, is at a turning point. Innovative grass-roots initiatives are struggling, conflicts over local heat and power production are increasing, the systematic roll-out of solar PV and wind power plants is stalling, and for the first time since the nuclear phase-out was proclaimed in 2011, political parties are openly turning against the Energiewende.