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Special Issue "Social Innovations in the Energy Transition"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Energy Sustainability".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 28 February 2018

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Dr. Thomas Hoppe

Delft University of Technology
Website | E-Mail
Interests: governance; public policy; policy implementation; energy transition; low carbon policy; low carbon city; renewable energy supplying cooperative
Guest Editor
Dr. Gerdien de Vries

Delft University of Technology
Website | E-Mail
Interests: behavioral science; public management; social influence; cognitive biases; environmental policy; technology; nudging; framing; energy transition; social innovation

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

In energy research, attention into the social and behavioral aspects of energy systems is often lacking (Sovacool, 2014). It is conducted separately from technical research, or it is only applied in a late stage of technological development. Moreover, novel energy technologies are often not, or are poorly, accepted (e.g., Huijts et al., 2012; Wuestenhagen et al., 2007), and potential users have difficulties to adapt their behavior when this is required for adoption and optimal use (e.g., de Vries et al, 2014; 2016; Terwel et al., 2011). In addition, research shows that institutions often hinder the development and diffusion of energy innovations (e.g., Negro et al., 2012; Faber & Hoppe, 2013).


Another problem related to the social dimension concerns the resistance to energy innovations, e.g., by incumbents in the industry, governmental bodies, traditional energy suppliers or by local communities, who perceive these innovations as disruptive or even threatening, and seek for opportunities to slow down or co-opt their development (e.g., de Vries, 2017; Meadowcroft, 2009). To address these problems it is necessary to map and analyse social and behavioral barriers to energy innovations. In addition, it is important to explore—and test—under which conditions innovations in the social and behavioral dimensions can help to address the aforementioned problems. This Special Issue deals with these dilemmas and the role social innovations can potentially play to solve or mitigate them. Social innovations have a high potential to address complex issues (e.g., Mulgan et al., 2007).


Scholars from various disciplines in the social and behavioral sciences are invited to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of combining technological innovation and social innovation, and try to answer the question of how insights from the technical, social and behavioral sciences can facilitate the implementation of social innovations (be they behavioral incentives, novel social structures, organization forms, new business models, institutional innovations, novel governance arrangements or policy innovations). In this Special Issue, special attention will be given to social innovation highlighted from: (a) the behavioral sciences, and (b) governance.


  • Within the behavioural theme, attention is paid to the role of behavioural insights to succeed in energy transitions. Questions will be addressed like: When will people rebel against sustainable energy initiatives? What psychological processes determine this behaviour? Will it help to give people a nudge in the right direction, for example by making use of cognitive biases (Goldstein et al., 2008; Schubert, 2017)? How to make energy-efficient appliances more attractive? Or what role could (risk) communication play in the acceptance of large energy projects such as wind farms or CO2 capture and storage (e.g., de Vries et al., 2014; 2016; 2017?
  • Within the governance theme the focus is on social, organisational, institutional, political and policy aspects regarding experimentation and implementation of social innovations in the energy domain. This leads to questions like: To which extent does public support exist for experimentation and deployment of social innovations in the field of energy? To what extent are social energy innovations at odds with values and institutions? And which of the legal and policy barriers are preventing energy innovation breakthroughs? What social control models, governance arrangements, and/or policies can be used to accelerate the diffusion of proven social energy innovations? And in which ways and under which conditions can (particular) innovative social structures – like citizen-led renewable energy supplying cooperatives – spur regional energy transition (e.g. Walker et al., 2010; Seyfang & Haxeltine, 2012), and how does government respond to them (e.g., Hoppe et al., 2015; Warbroek & Hoppe, 2017)?


This special issue seeks to explore, further conceptualize, and define the phenomenon of social innovations in the energy transition. It has been studies in–depth in other domains, but hardly vis-à-vis with regard to energy transition. We also feel that its current conceptualization and application in societal domains is too much mono-disciplinary, under-conceptualized, and is therefore in need of a more multidisciplinary re-conceptualization.

Dr. Thomas Hoppe
Dr. Gerdien de Vries
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.



Blanchet, T. (2015). Struggle over energy transition in Berlin: How do grassroots initiatives affect local energy policy-making? Energy Policy, 78, 246-254.


de Vries, G., Terwel, B. W., & Ellemers, N. (2014). Spare the details, share the relevance: The dilution effect in communications about CO2 capture and storage. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 38, 116-123.


de Vries, G., Terwel, B. W., & Ellemers, N. (2016). Perceptions of manipulation and judgments of illegitimacy: Pitfalls in the use of emphasis framing when communicating about CO2 capture and storage. Environmental Communication, 10, 206-226.


de Vries, G. (2017). How positive framing may fuel opposition to low-carbon technologies: The Boomerang Model. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 36(1), 28-44.


Faber, A., & Hoppe, T. (2013). Co-constructing a sustainable built environment in the Netherlands—Dynamics and opportunities in an environmental sectoral innovation system. Energy Policy, 52, 628-638.


Fri, R. W., & Savitz, M. L. (2014). Rethinking energy innovation and social science. Energy Research & Social Science, 1, 183-187.


Hargreaves, T., Hielscher, S., Seyfang, G., & Smith, A. (2013). Grassroots innovations in community energy: The role of intermediaries in niche development. Global Environmental Change, 23(5), 868-880.


Hielscher, S., Seyfang, G., & Smith, A. (2011). Community innovation for sustainable energy (No. 2011-03). CSERGE Working Paper.


Hoppe, T., Graf, A., Warbroek, B., Lammers, I., & Lepping, I. (2015). Local governments supporting local energy initiatives: lessons from the best practices of Saerbeck (Germany) and Lochem (The Netherlands). Sustainability, 7(2), 1900-1931.


Huijts, N. M., Molin, E. J., & Steg, L. (2012). Psychological factors influencing sustainable energy technology acceptance: A review-based comprehensive framework. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 16(1), 525-531.


Madlener, R. (2007). Innovation diffusion, public policy, and local initiative: The case of wood-fuelled district heating systems in Austria. Energy Policy, 35(3), 1992-2008.


Meadowcroft, J. (2009). What about the politics? Sustainable development, transition management, and long term energy transitions. Policy Sciences, 42(4), 323.


Mulgan, G., Tucker, S., Ali, R., & Sanders, B. (2007). Social innovation: what it is, why it matters and how it can be accelerated.


Negro, S. O., Alkemade, F., & Hekkert, M. P. (2012). Why does renewable energy diffuse so slowly? A review of innovation system problems. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 16(6), 3836-3846.


Schubert, C. (2017). Green nudges: Do they work? Are they ethical? Ecological Economics, 132, 329-342.


Seyfang, G., & Haxeltine, A. (2012). Growing grassroots innovations: exploring the role of community-based initiatives in governing sustainable energy transitions.


Sovacool, B. K. (2014). What are we doing here? Analyzing fifteen years of energy scholarship and proposing a social science research agenda. Energy Research & Social Science, 1, 1-29.


Terwel, B. W., Harinck, F., Ellemers, N., & Daamen, D. D. (2011). Going beyond the properties of CO2 capture and storage (CCS) technology: how trust in stakeholders affects public acceptance of CCS. International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control, 5(2), 181-188.


Walker, G., Hunter, S., Devine-Wright, P., Evans, B., & Fay, H. (2007). Harnessing community energies: explaining and evaluating community-based localism in renewable energy policy in the UK. Global Environmental Politics, 7(2), 64-82.


Walker, G., Devine-Wright, P., Hunter, S., High, H., & Evans, B. (2010). Trust and community: Exploring the meanings, contexts and dynamics of community renewable energy. Energy Policy, 38(6), 2655-2663.


Warbroek, B., & Hoppe, T. (2017). Modes of Governing and Policy of Local and Regional Governments Supporting Local Low-Carbon Energy Initiatives; Exploring the Cases of the Dutch Regions of Overijssel and Fryslân. Sustainability, 9(1), 75.


Wüstenhagen, R., Wolsink, M., & Bürer, M. J. (2007). Social acceptance of renewable energy innovation: An introduction to the concept. Energy Policy, 35(5), 2683-2691.





  • Social innovation
  • Energy transition
  • Renewable energy
  • Energy savings
  • Governance, Behavior, Energy community
  • Energy cooperative
  • Co-creation
  • Co-production
  • Low carbon policy
  • Business model
  • Psychology


Published Papers (1 paper)

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Open AccessArticle Radical Prosumer Innovations in the Electricity Sector and the Impact on Prosumer Regulation
Sustainability 2017, 9(7), 1207; doi:10.3390/su9071207
Received: 2 June 2017 / Revised: 3 July 2017 / Accepted: 4 July 2017 / Published: 10 July 2017
PDF Full-text (270 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
The electricity sector is in a transition towards a Smart Energy System where the roles of private and institutional actors are evolving. This work deals with the influence of some technological innovations, enabling social innovations such as peer to peer trading and the
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The electricity sector is in a transition towards a Smart Energy System where the roles of private and institutional actors are evolving. This work deals with the influence of some technological innovations, enabling social innovations such as peer to peer trading and the participation in local energy collectives, on the regulation of the rights and obligations of consumers and prosumers in the electricity sector. It identifies the main radical innovations in the electricity market and analyses the legal and related non-legal obstacles that may impede the empowerment of energy consumers and prosumers. Some recommendations are provided to ensure that consumers and prosumers are empowered and can benefit from these new technological and social innovations in the electricity market. The recommendations relate to an accurate definition of prosumers and active consumers, the integration of demand response, the evolving role of distribution network operators and the birth of peer-to-peer trading. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Innovations in the Energy Transition)
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