Introduction

“Think globally, act locally” is a famous slogan announced at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio and is implemented into practice by the Local Agenda 21 (Barbier 2011; Huang 2012). This slogan stands for the general belief of both, Science and Politics, that the key for solving global and complex issues of sustainable development lies in the strength and innovativeness of citizens, local communities and initiatives, entrepreneurs, and their networks (e.g., Andersson and Ostrom 2008; Aranguren et al. 2010; Holm et al. 2011). The basis of this belief is the understanding of local actors as experts of their living environment, being most qualified in crafting better-adapted, effective and efficient solutions for a sustainable development (Gibson et al. 2005; Horning 2005). This trend towards a more decentralized and local perspective on issues of

A. Schaffrin (*) • G. Fohr

EA European Academy of Technology and Innovation Assessment GmbH, Wilhelmstr. 56,

53474 Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany

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B. Vermeulen, M. Paier (eds.), Innovation Networks for Regional Development, Economic Complexity and Evolution, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-43940-2_4

global sustainability and innovation is ongoing. And it is still relevant, given that major challenges such as climate change or the demographic transition in Europe became even more pressing during the last decade. As a consequence, municipalities in Germany are confronted with high pressures to find sustainable and flexible solutions for regional development, with a rising demand for local innovation (e.g., Beermann and Tews 2015). Renewable energy infrastructures promise a viable solution for this issue as they are mainly installed in rural areas and hold increasing rents for local communities (Farla et al. 2012; Goldthau 2014; Negro et al. 2012; Verbong and Geels 2007). To understand the major drivers and obstacles of this local energy transition, and to explain the variation between fast developing regions and those that lag behind, is thus of major importance for both society and politics.

However, current approaches for tackling social and political change, and related influences on technologic application and economic conditions usually lack an integration of technological, economic, societal, and political elements across different spatial levels. Most scholars seem to agree that focusing on the structural elements of a complex system of different types of actors, interactions, networks, institutions, and infrastructures is fruitful. But the literature is split into various independent strands of research with regard to the level of analysis (local, regional, national), the form of coordination (between top-down governmental design and bottom-up multi-actor or citizen governance), and the focus of transition (economic vs. social transition processes). Analyzing these key-dimensions is crucial in the context of the German energy transition. As the restructuring of the energy system towards more decentralization is strongly bound to the local level, we see an increasing involvement of various non-economic actors (such as local landowners, private households, grassroots initiatives) and new forms of polycentric coordination (e.g. local energy cooperatives, inter-municipal cooperation, or public-private-partnerships) emerging.

Therefore, we focus on three dominant approaches addressing crucial domains for energy transitions: the regional innovation systems’ approach (economic domain), the sustainable communities perspective (social domain), and the local governance approach (political domain). From our point of view, each is contributing a unique and valuable perspective on local energy transitions with respect to the issues of the level of analysis (local, regional, national), the form of coordination (between top-down governmental design and bottom-up multi-actor or citizen governance), and the focus of transition (economic vs. social transition processes). We ask how specific context conditions of rural municipalities interact with regional innovation dynamics and governance mechanisms within local processes of transition. We want to give some insights on the usefulness of combining these approaches. We investigate this using the case of energy transition as, in this context, economic and social processes of transition are strongly intertwined. As a result, we derive three guiding questions for the analyses of local energy transitions that needs to be addressed in future research.

We will elaborate on three theoretical approaches for the process of the local energy transition with regard to the level of analysis (local, regional, national), the form of coordination (between top-down governmental design and bottom-up multi-actor or citizen governance), and the focus of transition (economic vs. social transition processes). On that basis, we base our conclusion from insights of the energy transition from rural municipalities in Germany.

 
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