Energy Citizenship in Positive Energy Districts—Towards a Transdisciplinary Approach to Impact Assessment
- How can citizens potentially engage in positive energy districts and thus contribute to the societal objectives of PEDs?
- What is the interest in, acceptance and uptake of citizens of these options to engage in the energy systems of positive energy districts?
- What impact from citizen engagement is observed and validated already in the ongoing demonstration projects of positive energy districts?
2. Positive Energy Districts as an Instrument in Urban Energy Transition
- The innovations and measures that collectively establish and comprise a PED cover different domains, ranging from the installation of batteries for energy storage to motivating residents to establish an energy community.
- The societal objectives also cover different policy domains, as shown in the table.
- Finally, the impact pathways that link innovations and measures to the societal impacts they aim to achieve is complex: technical innovations have an impact on economic and social impacts; social measures have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency.
3. The different Modes of Energy Citizenship in PEDs
3.1. Individual Citizenship
3.2. Local Energy Initiatives
3.3. Energy Citizenship through Local Energy Communities
3.4. Energy Communities as Aggregators
3.5. Local Peer2Peer Energy Trading (P2P) and Flexibility Trading within an Energy Community
3.6. The Energy Citizen as Energy Market Player
3.7. Impact Pathways on Energy Citizenship
4. Transdisciplinary Research on Energy Citizenship in PEDs
4.1. The Need for Transdisciplinary Research in PEDs
- The promotion of energy citizenship in PEDs could have an impact on the social, economic, energy and environmental societal goals.
- The promotion of energy citizenship comprises a range of measures from social interventions, such as providing information and motivation; technical measures, such as providing the ICT platform for trading, and the interfaces between residents and the energy systems; and economic incentives (pricing).
- The impact of intervention along the impact pathways should imply many interlinkages and dependencies between the domains and disciplines.
4.2. How to Assess the Progress towards Transdisciplinarity?
- Level of common vision across disciplines on PEDs and energy citizens as object of research, impact targets and pathways between research outcomes and impact.
- Progress in development and application of shared research methodology and impact assessment framework, complementing disciplinary approaches.
- Progress on qualitative and quantitative (interim) results on impact indicators towards societal goals
- Levels of citizen’s involvement in the design and implementation of research (beyond being the object of research).
- Initial structure of the project proposal that might enable or constrain, already from the beginning, inter and transdisciplinary approaches.
- Evaluation of the project activities envisioned at proposal stage/first year of the project to gain potential missing knowledge/experience to reach desirable levels of inter- or transdisciplinarity (depending on what is desirable according to the project goals).
- Level of common vocabulary/terminology among different disciplines (and non-academic actors) and efforts made to reach a common “glossary” as a starting point for the project.
5. Case Studies of Six European Smart City Projects
5.1. Amsterdam Bilbao Citizen-Driven Smart Cities (ATELIER)
- Collaborating with previously established energy communities in the district that serve as testing grounds and as inspiration for the new larger scale communities that will be established in the Amsterdam demonstration.
- Establishing so-called Innovation Ateliers that serve as a multi-stakeholder platform addressing issues coming up amongst the stakeholders during the innovation project, as well as upscaling of specific PED innovations, such as energy communities.
- Organising artistic interventions and low-threshold activities with residents in the area related to energy transition, in cooperation with local organisations. The activities are expected to offer the possibility to learn about (more) community initiatives in the energy transition and learn about preferred participation roles of various actors. Some activities had to be cancelled due to the pandemic.
- The main components of the Amsterdam PED demo are two new developments (blocks of buildings) as well as an established smaller community. This implies for the new developments that the future inhabitants were not directly involved in the design of the buildings. The scope for co-creation and citizens’ energy communities is therefore limited to specific components of the PEDs only.
- The work package structure, with a separate WP for citizen engagement and a separate one for the demonstration projects, is common for this kind of R&I project. However, this structure hampers breaking the silos towards multidisciplinary work methods, as cross-cutting activities are not core business. A common research methodology across disciplines is still under development, allowing an interdisciplinary way of working.
- There is a need for a common vision across project partners and involved stakeholders, who are predicted to be impacted by energy citizenship as a hypothesis. For example, will energy citizenship contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as well as to social objectives?
- Related to this is the need to map the impact pathways starting from the project’s interventions to the desired impact. This will help to identify synergies and trade-offs between different targets. To this purpose, the Innovation Ateliers will address energy communities, and a Theory of Change is being developed.
- The citizens and future inhabitants of the Amsterdam PED are primarily higher income. Upscaling and replication of PEDs in Amsterdam requires the transition to other demographics in the city. The methodology for assessing the different impacts and the interventions is still under development.
- The resident’s willingness to participate in community level and peer2peer trading may be low, due to lack of clarity on conditions and risks, among other reasons.
5.2. +CityxChange: Positive City Exchange
- Cities use different governance process partnership models, and physical solutions to implement PEDs, dependent on local context.
- Non-technical factors such as streamlining, organisational relationships, funding approaches and stakeholder engagement are crucial for complex projects such as this one.
- Designing, implementing, and managing PEDs needs ongoing monitoring, evaluation, mitigation, and adaptation, based on what is learnt during the activities.
- Initial stakeholder mapping for project development should be revisited and refined as the PED matures.
- Reanalysis of technical feasibility in areas and buildings for specific measures is necessary.
- With the right stakeholders involved and suitable local and political anchoring, adaptations and pivoting are possible (for example regarding COVID-19 impacts), and may ultimately strengthen stress-tested solutions. While initially defined (technical) impacts may have to be reduced, resilience and replicability may be increased.
- Financial costs are still one of the significant barriers to scaling.
- Complex projects in cities can benefit from a portfolio approach addressing a range of contexts and linked with the EU Cities Missions.
- The citizen role of co-innovator has been adopted by the project in activities such as citizen labs, innovation playgrounds, and hackathons. In the Positive Energy Champion Campaign, citizens were observed to migrate across various co-innovator roles and themes when developing and implementing their individual step-by-step plans for change .
- Citizens engaged to date demonstrate a strong commitment to the clean energy transition but can feel disempowered by the need for systemic change.
- We cannot make this only the responsibility of citizens. A fair distribution of risks and benefits between citizens and professional stakeholders is important.
- Societal benefits as a societal mission should be linked with climate action.
5.3. ENERGE: Energising Education to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Building a solid foundation of community trust is essential for any type of intervention to be supported by the neighbourhood. In Groningen, the erosion of trust in (local) government due to the earthquakes in the region makes the community weary of government interventions in their neighbourhoods.
- Tenants stated that they are often not involved in meetings organised by local energy initiatives, because they are not applicable to their situation and/or it lacked a personal approach.
- Students are often afraid of possible reprisals by their landlords by bringing up issues surrounding sustainability.
- Shortage of (professional) manpower is a frequently occurring issue in local energy initiatives.
- Several stakeholder groups, such as (social housing) tenants, (international) students and private landlords are seldom approached or addressed in energy-related activities and campaigns.
- Communication surrounding energy-related activities is often perceived to be insufficient, inefficient or (inadvertently) excludes certain groups of residents.
- The Unified Citizen Engagement Approach incorporates different stakeholders and provides insights into what to share and communicate and how to collaborate in each phase of the transition of a neighbourhood.
- This strategy also provides a good framework to recommend usage of specific measures, methods and tools in the different phases of the energy transition.
- There are two main activities at the start of the energy transition: a social(-economic) analysis with citizens and a technical analysis of the target neighbourhood. Citizen engagement starts in this first phase.
5.7. Synthesis of Case Studies
- Level of common vocabulary/terminology among different disciplines (and non-academic actors) and efforts made to reach a common “glossary” as a starting point for the project. This remains, in many projects, a work in progress. For example, in +CityxChange, a glossary was initially built separately in the energy and citizen tasks, which then needed to be aligned through a longer process and has also since been added to its website. In ATELIER, there is a difference in perspective on energy citizenship from the technical, legal and sociological perspectives, which hampers a common evaluation of impact.
- Level of common vision across disciplines on PEDs and energy citizens as an object of research, impact targets and pathways between research outcomes and impact. This is still very much a work in progress in all projects.
- Progress in development and application of shared research methodology and impact assessment framework (impact pathways), complementing disciplinary approaches. In most projects, assessment methods are still multidisciplinary and derived from the separate disciplines. A challenge can be an actual deep evaluation of project interventions and their impact dependencies to project goals.
- Progress on qualitative and quantitative (interim) results on impact indicators towards societal goals. The projects have adopted varied ways to measure the impact of their citizen engagement interventions, in most cases on the basis of Key Performance Indicators (KPI)-based tracking and performance evaluation. Significant differences in the approaches to KPIs can be observed, which make cross-project comparison very difficult.
- Levels of citizens’ involvement in the design and implementation of research (beyond being the object of research). Many projects organise citizenship consultations, but there are few examples that citizens have had an impact on the design of the PED and the design of specific innovations. In the case of new construction, it is impossible to involve the actual residents at the initial stages of the projects, as they have not moved in yet. Similar effects apply in mainly industrial or commercial areas, where engagement aims at users of the area, not residents, for example in a +CityxChange demo.
- Initial structure of the project proposal that might enable or constrain, even from the beginning, inter and transdisciplinary approaches. The positioning of citizen engagement activities in the design of the projects varies. Some projects have separate work packages for citizen engagement, making it a mere isolated activity restricting multidisciplinary approaches, where other projects integrate citizen engagement with other, often more technical, activities during the project lifetime.
- Evaluation of the project activities envisioned at proposal stage/first year of the project to gain potential missing knowledge/experience in order to reach desirable levels of inter- or transdisciplinarity (depending on what is desirable according to the project goals).
6. Discussion and Recommendations
- Avoid project designs that are only based on disciplines, such as those with a separate work package for social impact and citizen engagement, which hampers working in cross-disciplinary teams. Work packages are better structured around specific innovations or have strong integrations between the respective tasks and regular feedback between topics.
- Develop a shared theory of change and shared impact pathways on energy citizenship across all project partners and disciplines.
- Appoint so-called boundary spanners with the research team; individuals with multidisciplinary knowledge, who can speak more than one disciplinary language. They can make the required links across the project.
- Share and discuss the theory of change with the citizens. Do they share the same vision?
- Invite citizens to the table when designing the research agenda for impact assessment and give citizens (or their representative) an active role in the research activities.
Conflicts of Interest
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van Wees, M.; Revilla, B.P.; Fitzgerald, H.; Ahlers, D.; Romero, N.; Alpagut, B.; Kort, J.; Tjahja, C.; Kaiser, G.; Blessing, V.; Patricio, L.; Smit, S. Energy Citizenship in Positive Energy Districts—Towards a Transdisciplinary Approach to Impact Assessment. Buildings 2022, 12, 186. https://doi.org/10.3390/buildings12020186
van Wees M, Revilla BP, Fitzgerald H, Ahlers D, Romero N, Alpagut B, Kort J, Tjahja C, Kaiser G, Blessing V, Patricio L, Smit S. Energy Citizenship in Positive Energy Districts—Towards a Transdisciplinary Approach to Impact Assessment. Buildings. 2022; 12(2):186. https://doi.org/10.3390/buildings12020186Chicago/Turabian Style
van Wees, Mark, Beatriz Pineda Revilla, Helena Fitzgerald, Dirk Ahlers, Natalia Romero, Beril Alpagut, Joke Kort, Cyril Tjahja, Gabi Kaiser, Viktoria Blessing, Lia Patricio, and Sander Smit. 2022. "Energy Citizenship in Positive Energy Districts—Towards a Transdisciplinary Approach to Impact Assessment" Buildings 12, no. 2: 186. https://doi.org/10.3390/buildings12020186