The Integration of Energy Conservation into the Political Goal of Renewable Energy Self-Sufficiency—A German Case Study Based on a Longitudinal Reconstruction

Järmo Stablo, Chantal Ruppert-Winkel
2012 Sustainability  
Many local governments in Germany aim to reach Renewable Energy Self-Sufficiency (RESS) in their municipalities. In this context, ambitious time horizons for reaching this goal make it necessary to address the question of how less absolute energy can be consumed. The topic of energy conservation in scientific literature is very controversially discussed and in fact it is not clear which measures in the long term contribute to real reductions in energy demand. Therefore, in this paper, we do not
more » ... is paper, we do not determine how energy conservation should be achieved. Instead, we reconstruct, through an inductive longitudinal study, why energy conservation was integrated into the general principles of a municipality that wished to reach "RESS" by the year 2020 and considerably reduce energy demand. At the same time, we looked at the question of how energy conservation was conceptualized by local actors and which strategies, instruments, and activities were used to reach the goal. We found that environmentally concerned citizens brought the idea of energy conservation into the political arena. However, it was not until energy prices rose, regulations developed on a national level, subsidies for energy conservation emerged, and actions addressing the issue were seen by many local actors as adding value to the unique character the municipality gained by their RESS activities, that the actual subject was considered relevant in the municipality. OPEN ACCESS Sustainability 2012, 4 889 Keywords: Renewable Energy Self-Sufficiency; energy conservation; inductive longitudinal approach; case study research; energy demand; local value added; regional development; conflicts Introduction The need for a transformation of the energy system to renewable energies (RE) has been discussed for many years now in Germany, and after the occurrences in Fukushima is a heavily articulated issue today; reaching a virtual consensus in the political arena. However, well before this strong desire for an energy transition on a national level emerged, many initiatives in Germany-and also elsewhere in Europe-formulated the will for a complete supply of RE at regional and local levels [1] [2] [3] [4] . As the energy demand in Germany is high, many studies declare that if a big share of RE in the German energy mix or even a 100% RE supply is to be met, a considerable reduction in energy demand is needed [5] [6] [7] . In the context of proposed Renewable Energy Self-Sufficiency (RESS) on regional and local scales the issue of energy conservation becomes especially relevant, because often here ambitious goals concerning the time horizon for reaching RESS exist. For example, the district of Lüchow-Dannenberg wants to reach RESS by 2015 and the municipality of Morbach by 2020. Both regions in Germany are well known for their RE and RESS activities. This paper deals with two issues in the above context. As we will present, the issue of energy conservation has, for a long time, been acknowledged and intertwined only marginally with the goal of RE-expansion in energy concepts at local level in Germany. However, in recent years, the issue has been integrated into an increasing number of energy concepts. As we are interested in the factors which lead to this innovation, we have reconstructed, in an exploratory longitudinal case study in one German municipality, the processes that led to the integration of the goal to save energy into the local strategy to reach RESS. The second issue dealt with in this paper is derived from the synopsis of results gained by multiple scientists working on the issue of energy conservation over the last 40 years: that we as a society are not really sure how to save energy. Rather, a plurality of normative perspectives exists on the issue, based on different assumptions. Taking this into account we argue that an analysis might be interesting of how "energy conservation" is conceptualized by actors involved in a process to reach RESS in terms of policies including regulation, incentives or information-programs and what factors contribute to the shaping of these conceptualizations over time. Finally, by looking at this issue, we want to identify conditions by which the ability to act among actors in the local political and administrative arena concerning the issue of "energy conservation" are ensured, although a plurality of normative visions of appropriate ways exist. In the following, we present a detailed derivation of our two research issues and the corresponding questions that led our research work. In section three, the research design and methodology are described. A case history derived from our empirical data is given in section four. This case history is transformed into a case study by coding the data into categories and relating them to each other. In section five the more abstract results of the conceptualizations of "energy conservation" and the driving forces that shaped these concepts are presented. The findings are discussed Sustainability 2012, 4 890 and embedded in related literature in section six. Conclusions concerning the research questions are drawn in the final section. Starting Point of Our Research Energy Conservation as a (Former Missing) Element in Regional and Local Energy Concepts Although for Germany as a whole, as well as for bigger cities, climate protection concepts often existed, which integrated RE-use with energy conservation [4] in energy concepts at local level, until the late 2000s the issue of energy conservation was not prominently addressed, although it seemed to be theoretically important for the transformation of the energy system. Rather, the focus lay on the production of RE, and its interconnection with the topic of energy conservation was, if at all, found at the periphery [4]. However, in recent years, changes in approaching the topic of energy conservation at this level have emerged. In a growing number of local energy concepts the topic of energy conservation is integrated and interlinked with the expansion of RE. For example, the district of Schwäbisch Hall and the municipality of Morbach, in 2006 and 2008 respectively, have explicitly formulated energy conservation as a strategy to reach RESS in their politically-agreed general principles. Hauber and Ruppert-Winkel [8] have identified factors that lead to the change of the local energy system to RESS in four well-known regions in Germany; Bedenik and Binder [9] carried out similar research regarding Güssing, Austria; Späth and Rohracher [10] in Murau, Austria; and Mårtensson and Westerberg [11] authored three Swedish cases. However, we did not find literature systematically dealing with the question of why the issue of energy conservation has become integrated into local energy concepts and especially interlinked with RE use in the context of proposed RESS goals. One purpose of the paper was, therefore, to find out which circumstances lead to the point in which energy conservation becomes important to the transformation process of the energy system at the local level and interlinked with RE use in strategies to reach RESS. What Contributes to Energy Conservation and How Can it be Promoted? The second purpose of the paper was to find out how local actors involved in the process of reaching RESS conceptualized "energy conservation" e.g., in terms of instruments like regulations, incentives or information; different energy use sectors (electricity, heat, mobility); behavioral, organizational and investment related activities; and the relation of energy conservation to other policy fields. Also, the ideas and motivations behind fostering energy conservation were of interest in this context. This research interest was derived from our analysis of scientific discourses concerning the question of what contributes to energy conservation and what has to be done to reduce energy demand. In the following, we give a short outline of different concepts handled in the sustainability discourse in general and the energy conservation discourse specifically. We underlined the important role of research on rebound effects in these discourses and finally derived that as a society, although aware of the topic of energy conservation for more than 40 years, we do not currently really know how to save
doi:10.3390/su4050888 fatcat:q6lbiwwcpjhkzfn52eioh5zfdu