Acceptance of renewable energy
The project departs from the assumption that effective policy change towards renewable energy is not only a technical but mainly also a political challenge. Therefore, the analyses shed light on the conditions under which political actors and the population accept political instruments and projects.
Project description (completed research project)
The energy turnaround is an important driver for renewable energy projects. The reorientation of Swiss energy policy entails numerous technical and political challenges. In order to achieve change, both the political elite and the population must accept projects and innovative political instruments. These policies and projects are moreover characterised by trade-offs. Hence, the crucial question is how actors treat the different “pros” and “cons” in a multidimensional decision context.
The goals of the project concerned:
- the description of the current state as well the development of renewable electricity production based on four energy sources (small hydro power, solar power, wind power and geothermal power) in the Swiss cantons,
- the analysis of the political elite’s acceptance of different policy instruments and instrument mixes to promote renewable energy, and
- the identification of conditions under which citizens in a participatory context like Switzerland accept renewable energy policies and projects.
- Substantial differences exist concerning the degree to which the Swiss cantons use their natural potential for renewable electricity production. Taking small-scale hydropower as an example, an extensive positive planning was revealed to act as a hurdle for the implementation of local projects, whereas good feed-in conditions and local entrepreneurs promoting and mediating the local process are conducive to the deployment of renewable energy.
- The political elite is central to the selection and implementation of policy instruments for the promotion of renewables. The distribution of information is generally the lowest common denominator on which most actors can agree, whereas regulative and economic instruments are more strongly contested. Moreover, actors prefer different instrument types depending on the actor type and contingent on cantonal characteristics. Generally, previous expertise with the implementation of an instrument is related to a higher instrument acceptance.
- Whereas citizens are affirmative of renewable energy in general, their acceptance of renewable energy policy and related projects is characterised by “qualified support”. Visible costs are the crucial qualification, i.e., if households need to pay more, support strongly decreases, whereas nuclear phasing out is a trigger for policy support. In contrast, the electorate is reluctant to acknowledge the benefits of incentive-based instruments. This explains the lack of acceptance for these instruments, which have been identified as most effective by ecological economists.
Implications for research
- The project provides a new political science framework on “social acceptance” which more specifically integrates aspects related to the policy-making process.
- The analysis conducted in the project revealed the usefulness of experimental survey elements, in particular conjoint analysis, in understanding individual opinion formation in the context of multidimensional decisions and under high uncertainty.
- The analysis of both citizens and the political elite supports the view that both groups need to be considered and compared in order to understand the political potential for change.
Implications for practice
The project suggests a “politics of small steps” at the level of policies: rather moderate solutions, e.g., involving only small costs and steadily developing from the “status quo” are more likely to be accepted, and they can generate the necessary positive experiences for making policies more effective over time. For example, at the level of the cantons, policy makers should exchange expertise regarding policy instruments across cantonal borders to foster acceptance for successful instruments that have not yet been implemented on a broad scale.
At the local level, implementation processes need to be inclusive from the start. Moreover, policy makers should create good conditions for local entrepreneurs to initiate and promote local projects.
Future energy policy: the acceptance of alternative electricity supply