EFO BSO APG Session-TeilnehmerInnen
Acceptance of Infrastructure Measures is Key to Successful Energy Transition
Switching to renewable energy sources is a top priority for Europe. However, the understanding and acceptance for underlying requirements and dependencies need to be improved to get the energy transition on track and keep the energy system secure.

Vienna (OTS) – Austrian Power Grid (APG), Austrian’s independent transmission system operator, hosted a panel discussion on the foundations of the energy transition and the future energy system in reference to this year’s theme of the European Forum Alpbach – "Fundamentals". Vital corner stones of this energy future are the expansion and conversion of the necessary infrastructure and the acceptance of these measures in society. Without the expansion of the electricity infrastructure, the energy transition as well as achieving the climate targets will fail.

Public acceptance is key but difficult to achieve. Why? Most people are aware that e.g. the expansion of wind power plants, storage facilities and electricity grid capacities are crucial for the energy transition. But, when it comes to the implementation of specific projects, there is often local resistance that postpones or even prevents crucial projects all together. An attitude that could be described as: “Energy Transition? Definitely! But Not in My Backyard”.

International experts from different fields discussed this area of conflict and reasons for the apparent lack of acceptance as well as possible approaches to address this issue. In particular two main points were identified to improve acceptance of all kinds of infrastructure necessary for the energy system of the future:

1) Active information around dependencies within and requirements of the future energy system as well as transparent planning and early participation of citizens – whether directly affected or not - in infrastructure projects. Key stakeholders such as the electricity industry, politicians on a national and international level as well as NGOs and scientists need to actively engage in this area. Every stakeholder has to ask the question: What can I do for the energy transition and what is my responsibility in this process?

2) Appropriate framework on national and EU level that

a. speeds up the energy transition,
b. facilitates real participation of citizens in the planning process that values the concerns of minorities, without disregarding the common good; and
c. provides innovative instruments that allow affected communities and citizens to have a share in the economic opportunities.

Key quotes from the discussion:

Rana Adib, Executive Director of Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), Paris: “For the urgent development of renewables, we cannot rely on citizens alone. Governments need to make strong policy decisions that level the playing field to make renewable energy projects more feasible, and that allow citizens to directly benefit from the shift to renewables. Communicating the positive social benefits of renewables and including citizens at every stage of the project development process are both successful strategies that generate support of renewable energy development projects.”

Gerhard Christiner, Member of the Board, Austrian Power Grid AG: “If you add up the electricity production from water, wind and photovoltaics in Austria it would be possible to supply all consumers with renewable electricity at times, provided that the grid infrastructure is sufficient. But the necessary grids are missing. The decarbonization of the economy and industry will further increase the demand for electricity in the coming years and put more pressure on the grid. Therefore, all players in the energy system must take responsibility. Delaying the necessary grid expansion would jeopardize the energy transition.”

Christian Redl, Project Manager, European Energy Cooperation, Agora Energiewende, Berlin: “The European energy transition needs to increase its speed since by 2030 renewables need to generate two thirds of our electricity and coal generation needs to be phased-out; hence renewable deployment needs to at least double in the coming years. A revised renewables policy framework that emphasizes financing, planning, and permitting aspects is thus key. Policy makers need to apply a more opportunity-focused narrative, without neglecting the challenges. Support for the energy transition is strong among European citizens, so allowing for local added value and participation, transparent and trustworthy governance systems and a fair planning of available project sites can enable an inclusive, just, and deep energy transition.“

Ortwin Renn, Scientific Director at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), Potsdam: “Individual approval of new infrastructure regarding renewable energy sources depends on four conditions:

(i) agreement that the infrastructure is necessary and desirable,
(ii) a positive balance between risk and benefits, including a fair distribution of potential risk and burdens;
(iii) an enhancement of personal agency (more rather than less options) and
(iv) affective identification (feeling of compatibility with my surroundings).

To meet these conditions, policies need to be adjusted, communication programs implemented that address these four points, but most of all, direct involvement of affected citizens in planning and operating infrastructure related to the energy transition.”

Catharina Sikow, Director of Internal Energy Market at the Directorate General of Energy, European Commission, Brussels: “European energy infrastructure is a key enabler for achieving climate neutrality, whilst boosting the competitiveness of our businesses and ensuring the security of supply of households. The acceleration of the projects’ implementation is necessary not only to achieve the goals and targets of the EU towards climate neutrality, but also to give impetus to economic recovery post the COVID 19 pandemic. Acceptance of these projects by the affected communities is key to their realization and the delivery of their benefits to all Europeans. The Commission works towards strengthening the transparency of energy infrastructure projects and ensuring that the public is consulted in an effective manner in order to deliver better projects on the ground. In this sense, a revision of the rules governing the implementation of cross-border energy networks will be ready by the end of 2020.”

The panel discussion was moderated by Madlen Stottmeyer from the Austrian daily newspaper “Die Presse”.