Headline: Social Sustainability Barometer for the Energiewende Shows Broad Support along with Doubts about Implementation

For the first time, social scientists have measured how just the Germans think their energy transition is. 

Das Soziale Nachhaltigkeitsbarometer zur Energiewende

Today, the main findings of the 2017 Social Sustainability Barometer were presented in Berlin. It reveals that 88 per cent of German citizens support the Energiewende across all levels of education, income, political preferences, and in both cities and rural areas. But almost two thirds of the population believe that the cost burden is not equally shared. More than 65 per cent feel that normal citizens bear the brunt while companies and the wealthy do not do their fair share. A broad majority wants those who consume more energy to pay a larger share of the Energiewende’s cost. Almost half (49 per cent) of those surveyed are unsatisfied with the grand coalition’s implementation of the transition. Furthermore, 84 per cent say the state should ensure that everyone in Germany has sufficient energy access.

The Barometer is a product of the Dynamis partnership, which brings together the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), the 100 prozent erneuerbar Stiftung, and the innogy Stiftung für Energie und Gesellschaft.

A broad consensus for the energy transition

Most Germans (88 per cent) support the Energiewende and want to take part in it (75 per cent). A majority also feels that the support for renewables (84 per cent), energy conservation (80 per cent), and energy efficiency (85 per cent) is a good thing. “In all social groups, people have positive associations with the Energiewende, which they see as an established goal,” explains Daniela Setton, researcher at the IASS and lead author of the study. More than 87 per cent of supporters for the CDU/CSU, SPD, FDP, Linke, and Alliance 90/The Greens are in favour of it, on average, as are 59 per cent of AfD supporters. Even 77 per cent of climate skeptics support it.

“One surprising finding for us was that there is a similar level of support for a coal phaseout as there is for the nuclear phaseout,” Setton says. Nearly two thirds (63 per cent) of the public want a coal phaseout. There is even a majority in support in the lignite-mining states of Brandenburg, North-Rhine/Westphalia, Saxony, and Saxony-Anhalt. Of those states, the figure is the highest in North-Rhine/Westphalia at 60 per cent. In comparison, 68 per cent of Germans support the nuclear phaseout.

Criticism of social imbalance in political implementation

In contrast, there is greater skepticism when it comes to equity, cost, steering, and citizen input. For instance, two thirds of Germans feel that the transition is expensive. 73 per cent said that it is increasing power prices. Low-income households in particular stated that normal citizens bear the brunt of the costs (71 per cent), but even higher-income households shared this perception (57 per cent).

“Nearly half of all Germans say the Energiewende is somewhat unfair; only a quarter say it is generally fair. This is a clear signal. Energy policies should focus more on social acceptance and support for low-income households,” says Ortwin Renn, Scientific Director at the IASS and the study’s project leader. “The astonishing thing is that even those who feel detrimentally affected by the transition in financial terms nonetheless support it. Politicians can rely on broad support – especially if future energy policy takes better account of social issues.”

Poor results for political parties’ energy-policy competence

None of the parties in German parliament have Energiewende policies that convince the public. 23 per cent stated that “no party” has the best concept, while 20 per cent said Alliance 90/The Greens had the best one. All of the other parties ranked much lower: 15 per cent for CDU/CSU, 7 per cent for the SPD, 3 per cent for the Linke, 2 per cent for the FDP, and 1 per cent for the AfD. Even when the numbers were expressed according to party support, Alliance 90/The Greens performed the best by far, with 74 of their own voters saying the party had the best Energiewende concept. Indeed, 29 per cent of SPD voters even said Alliance 90/The Greens was more competent than their own party (26 per cent) in the energy transition.

Call for politicians to give state more responsibility

Germans believe the state should ensure a socially just transition, specifically low energy prices so that poor households are not unjustly burdened (57 per cent). 27 per cent believe that the state should provide financial assistance so that the needy can cover their heat and power bills. 88 per cent want to limit rent increases to a reasonable level when buildings are weatherized. 75 per cent of landlords agree.

Desire for energy prices tiered by consumption level

Citizens believe that exemptions for energy-intensive industry to the renewable electricity surcharge should be adjusted. 72 per cent of the public rejects these exemptions in the Renewable Energy Act.  Instead of spreading the cost burden across all consumers via power rates, 60 per cent want households and firms with high carbon emissions to cover most of these costs. Roughly half of those surveyed – including 42 per cent of households with high power consumption – want a progressive price component for power rates.

People want more input in politics

One common complaint was low citizen input, such as in wind farm construction. 85 per cent of Germans said it is important for citizens to be involved at an early stage in the planning process for wind turbines nearby. 55 per cent want locals to have the last word when wind turbines are built.

"For the first time, the Social Sustainability Barometer provides the necessary empirical basis for a number of crucial and controversial questions. The Energiewende’s success partly depends upon people feeling that the transition offers them new opportunities – for instance, to take part financially or politically,” says René Mono, executive director of the 100 prozent erneuerbar Stiftung.

Personal engagement, especially in energy conservation

86 per cent of Germans are pleased that citizens can make their own energy as part of the Energiewende. However, personal involvement usually focuses on energy-efficient purchases (93 per cent) and energy-conserving behaviour in everyday life (87 per cent). Only 8 per cent have invested in smart heating systems, while 10 per cent have invested in a renewable energy generator. No change in this behaviour is expected in the near future.

"The Social Sustainability Barometer for the Energiewende provides a sound scientific basis to investigate what people think, what preferences consumers have, and how society needs to function for the broadest possible participation in the development of a future energy supply. We can thus now look for the best solitons for a socially sustainable energy transition, which is the goal of Dynamis,” says Stephan Muschick, head of the innogy Stiftung für Energie und Gesellschaft.

A lot of tenants and homeowners are willing in principle to invest in the Energiewende personally. Politicians, business, and environmental organizations could help them do so. After all, the Energiewende is an investment in the future – as 73 per cent of Germans put it.

More information:

Summary Report of the study (in German): Soziales Nachhaltigkeitsbarometer der Energiewende 2017: Kernaussagen und Zusammenfassung der wesentlichen Ergebnisse (PDF)

English translation: Social Sustainability Barometer for the German Energiewende 2017

French translation: Baromètre de la durabilité sociale de la transition énergétique allemande 2017

The study "Social sustainability barometer for the Energiewende"

As a part of the Kopernikus project’s energy navigation system (ENavi) funded by the German Research Ministry, the Dynamis partnership brings together the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), the innogy Stiftung für Energie und Gesellschaft and the 100 prozent erneuerbar Stiftung to investigate the social dimensions of the Energiewende in its annual Social Sustainability Barometer. The representative survey was conducted for the first time in 2017.

The representative survey was based on the mixed-method approach, in which both qualitative and quantitative data are collected and interlinked for the analysis. The central empirical basis is the annual panel survey of 7,500 households conducted by the IASS along with the RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung and forsa. Afterwards, a qualitative survey of five target groups and a total of 50 participants was conducted in July and September.

Video: The German Energiewende - Ortwin Renn at the GLOBAL MEDIA FORUM