The National Research Programmes "Energy Turnaround" (NRP 70) and "Managing Energy Consumption" (NRP 71) have investigated the key factors influencing society’s willingness to accept technology and behavioural change and distilled them into specific recommendations. The focal issue "Acceptance" ushers in the concluding phase of NRP 70 and 71.
"The Swiss have a fundamentally positive attitude to transforming their country’s energy system", says Andreas Balthasar, President of the NRP 71 Steering Committee. "People’s misgivings about such things as environment taxes or new technologies often stem from not fully knowing how they work and what effects they can have. The same applies to political elites, who also tend to favour existing instruments or solutions that are familiar from other contexts."
Thus 60 percent of the population believe that, because of redistribution effects, incentive-based taxes have no impact on energy consumption. Architects and their clients do not incorporate building integrated photovoltaic systems because they are unfamiliar with them. However, knowledge deficits are not the only obstacle. Government requirements, excessively short-term cost-benefit considerations and the fact that people always give greater weighting to negative rather than positive information in times of uncertainty present additional challenges.
Comprehensive survey of societal acceptance
The 100-plus projects in NRP 70 and 71 have been amalgamated under the name "NRP Energy". Among other things, the NRP provides a comprehensive survey of society’s acceptance of measures to successfully transform Switzerland’s energy system.
"Acceptance needs to be generated at three levels", says Balthasar, summarising the findings. "Credible, transparent information provides the foundation for doing so. Building on that foundation, the population and business must be able to recognise the overall benefit as well as individual advantages. And finally, people will be won over by specific examples that they can understand."
Actors from energy research, administration and business have drawn on scientific bases to develop specific recommendations for action:
Use local frames of reference as an effective argument
The Swiss prefer home-grown solutions when it comes to energy production. The more firmly embedded a project is in a particular region - through Swiss investors, regional cooperatives or companies, for example - the broader the support it will gain, even though it may cost more or change the local landscape.
Communicate positive examples
Good experience - in the close social environment wherever possible - has a beneficial impact on the way technologies are accepted and on people’s willingness to change their behaviour. In addition, involvement in the decision-making process enhances acceptance of infrastructure projects.
Play up personal benefits
Energy comes towards the bottom of the Swiss population’s list of priorities. The positive spill-over effects that new technologies and changed behaviours may generate for health, quality of life, comfort and time availability play a significantly more important role in shaping opinion than energy consumption.
Full information on the focal issue "Acceptance" can be found on the new www.nrp-energy.ch web portal.