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How To Put People At The Heart Of Energy Transitions

How to put people at the heart of energy transitions

How can we ensure that people are centred in energy transitions? What is needed from leaders at all levels to make this happen? SONNET and three of its sister projects – representing academics, local governments, social enterprises and local social innovators from across all of Europe – recently convened to chart a path forward that answers these questions.

Through panel discussions, workshops, a keynote and a policy dialogue, a broad range of experts engaged with one another online and in-person in Antwerp and Brussels at the Putting people at the heart of energy transitions conference. European Commission representatives from DG ENER, DG CLIMA, DG RTD, CINEA and the Joint Research Centre were brought into dialogue with local leaders to define what each needs to build a people-centred, sustainable, just and innovative energy future.

The highlight of the conference was the presentation and discussion of a Joint Policy Brief, developed by the four sister projects (SONNET, SocialRES, COMETS and NEWCOMERS). The Policy Brief synthesises evidence from the past three years of work. In particular, it highlights: i) the diversity and relevance of social innovation in energy (SIE); ii) citizens’ perceptions of and support for SIE; iii) social benefits of SIE; iv) the impacts of social innovation on energy transitions; and v) policies and institutions for SIE. These research results are furthermore used to formulate a series of policy recommendations for the European Commission, as well as for national and local policy makers.

The Policy Brief was presented at the conference, prefaced by opening remarks from Rosalinde van der Vlies (Director Clean Planet, DG RTD). Following its presentation, representatives from DG CLIMA, DG ENERG, the European Joint Research Centre,, and Women Engage for a Common Future responded to and discussed the Brief and its call for the future of energy transition.

“It’s crucial to engage people from the very start… Instead of a top-down techno-centric approach, we need the social and technical innovators as partners, not as competitors or add-ons.” – Dirk Vansintjan, Co-founder and President,

At its core, the conference was about synthesising three years of results in order to set-up a path forward. Parallel streams honed in on citizen awareness and acceptance of SIEs, debated success factors for SIEs, and examined building collective action initiatives.

“SONNET found that up to 90% of citizens surveyed would be interested in investing in SIEs if the conditions are right. That is the task for policy makers and for us as researchers to carry forward – to identify how we can harness this potential.” – Karoline Rogge, SONNET Project Coordinator

Ultimately, those who are most directly going to carry this work forward are the next generation of European-funded social innovation in energy projects. To conclude the event, the four co-organising projects “passed the baton” on to the EC², ENCLUDE, EnergyPROSPECTS, and GRETA projects, inviting them to make use of and build on our legacies.

The Putting people at the heart of energy transitions conference made at least one thing clear: while the SONNET project is approaching its end, its impact will live on!

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Thank you to all who supported and/or participated in this fruitful event!

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