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News announcement12 January 20212 min read

Case studies: Contribution of social innovation to the energy transition

Social innovation projects contribute to the energy transition by changing production and/or consumption patterns, and reducing waste and poverty, among others.

Cooperation and flexibility are among the key elements leading to successful social innovation projects
Cooperation and flexibility are among the key elements leading to successful social innovation projects
© tonefotografia

Energy related social innovations contribute to energy savings and to increased use of Renewable Energy Systems (RES), tackle energy poverty, boost circular economy initiatives, and empower citizens and encourage their participation, according to a case studies analysis in a recent JRC study.

Objective and methodology

This JRC study aims to provide an overview of social innovations in the energy sector, discuss their potential contribution to the energy transition, and identify their broader or locally experienced effects across a range of realms, based on a literature review and an analysis of 21 empirical cases.

What is social innovation in the energy sector?

Despite the absence of a unique definition, a set of features have been identified as being common to social innovation projects in the energy sector: they emerge bottom-up, contribute to civic empowerment and improved collaborations, boost low carbon energy transition, adapt to local context and strive for the general well-being of the society.

It has to be noted that what is considered innovative in one country or region may be an established practice elsewhere.

According to the analysis, the main impacts of social innovation projects are the following:

  • change in energy production and/or consumption patterns
  • reduction in waste of energy/energy efficiency improvement and entailing emission reduction
  • poverty reduction
  • local energy solutions creating employment
  • gender equality (e.g. local energy solutions empowering women as investors)
  • empowering and involving the local community
  • increasing the level of trust
  • creation of acceptance to technological innovations
  • socio-spatial development

What are the key factors of success and the main obstacles?

According to the study, the common features for successful social innovations are:

  • a clear vision and organisational capabilities
  • project plans or business plans are prepared in advance
  • flexibility to adjust to changing circumstances or to seize opportunities
  • tolerance of the involved community for delays on the advancement of the project
  • co-operation among the project partners and with local policy-makers, municipalities and other stakeholders
  • a strong focus on soft skills like communication and marketing abilities as well as on professional knowledge in the technical, economic and juridical fields
  • appropriate technical, economic, and legal competences l have been in high demand

The main obstacles to the success of social innovations are of legal, political, or societal nature, related to the particular context where the innovations are implemented.

Moreover, the regional or local focus of the innovations, while being their main benefit is also a big disadvantage as scaling up fragmented initiatives for a broader impact is a resource-intensive process.

Related Content

JRC report: Social innovations for the energy transition


Publication date
12 January 2021