Fit with Local Context Factors
In general, renewable energy technologies such as photovoltaic, wind farms or biogas installations have a certain demand for land-resources, and can be realized locally; both are factors that fit local conditions of the rural periphery. In fact, we find a number of local actors relevant for the energy transition, highly embedded in close networks on the local level (Droste-Franke et al. 2012; Wieczorek and Hekkert 2012). Municipal authorities, local companies or even private actors may either directly invest in renewable energy technologies, provide the land-resources for the siting of power plants, or even grow energy crops in order to produce renewable energy from biomass. Small-scale trade and repair businesses play a crucial role for the installation and monitoring of power plants (Cernavin and Mangold 2013; Feine and Jurgens 2013). Civil society actors such as voluntary associations for nature conservation provide extensive local knowledge on endangered species during the planning process of wind farms, biogas installations, or larger solar-plants. Local expertise in farming energy crops as a core competency of the rural periphery might foster innovation in the bio-economy and increase investments by external companies throughout the region.
However, there is a substantial variation of local, path-dependent conditions that needs to be matched with different characteristics of renewable energy technologies in terms of the available resources to implement these technologies, the potential for crafting new modes of governance as well as the conflicts that arise between different local actors. Municipalities characterized by traditional farming might have the means and expertise for planting energy crops and producing renewable energy from biomass on a larger scale. Whether local farmers actually take this new path depends on the financial gains they expect by planting energy crops in comparison to traditional farming, on their individual adaptive capacity, the external support of knowledge institutes, and the institutional framework to provide necessary incentives and subsidies. In fact, if adaptive capacity and incentives are low, these municipalities might even be more reluctant to change due to the direct competition with food-planting. This conflict between interests of traditional and innovative land-use is also relevant in the context of wind farming in regions with a strong focus on tourism, cultural heritage, and nature conservation (Aitken 2010a, b; Eichhorn and Drechsler 2010). In these municipalities, traditional values are strong and might be reluctant towards highly visible changes in the close environment (Anderson 2013; Bell et al. 2005). But traditional forms of organization such as wine-cooperatives and family-owned firms also bear a great potential for private investment and participation in local energy projects via energy cooperatives as a mode of governance of the local energy transition. In contrast, old-industrialized municipalities that face structural changes have less traditional farming and nature protection sites, but lack substantial financial resources to invest in renewable energy installations. As a consequence, available land-resources in these municipalities might attract external investments for larger energy projects of wind farming or solar installations and make more cooperative and participative modes less likely.
These differences in the local fit between technologies and context conditions lead to a variation in modes of governance, public support and investment, and the processes of learning and adaptation. Where investments are taken by local actors, public authorities, or private initiatives, innovations are more likely incremental as a result of network cooperation (e.g. service innovations provided by public authorities for local energy projects) or imitation of other rural municipalities (new-to-the- firm or new-to-the-region innovation). From this line of argumentation, we can investigate context-specific energy transitions within the municipalities and determine relevant factors influencing the success or failures within this process, e.g. by addressing deficits in local capacities (financial, social, organizational, or cultural), strong fragmentation of interests and actor-networks (high effort of coordination, low level of social capital), or insufficient incentives and integration of higher level governance processes (e.g. in multilevel spatial planning procedures) (Eichhorn and Drechsler 2010; Madders and Whitfield 2006).