Accelerating clean energy innovation – driving citizen engagement

October 17, 2017

TBB 2017 takes its cue from the European Commission (EC) in making ‘accelerating clean energy innovation’ its core theme.

It’s a crucial topic – the technological, financial, social and political elements are in place and reacting together to create a clean energy revolution. But not fast enough.

In this three-part blog series, we look at some of the ways to catalyse that reaction, and how TBB can help. This is part three, where we examine the importance of citizen engagement to widescale adoption.

Rallying the mainstream

So far we’ve tackled the challenge of investment and how uniting the public and private sectors is vital to channelling funds into clean energy innovations. We also looked at the importance of those early adopters and how public sector procurement could hold the key to gaining initial market traction. For clean energy innovation to be a success, however, there remains a third vital component – mainstream public engagement.

With any new product or innovation, long-term success depends on winning the hearts and minds of the end consumer. With clean energy, it’s no different. Even with businesses and public sector firms onboard, initiatives will inevitably derail if the broader public is not bought into the overall concept. The European Commission agrees, stating that “citizens are central to the successful uptake of low-carbon innovative solutions, from smart meters in their homes to large-scale wind farms.”

Recycling public opinion

Recycling is the perfect case in point. Technologies and policies emerged to create the ideal ecosystem to support waste recycling. However, they were redundant without the public’s support. In truth, it was the various large-scale public engagement campaigns that really drove uptake.

The fact that recycling has become commonplace today is largely down to the success of these and other similar communications. Crucially, they tapped into themes of social and environmental responsibility and encouraged individuals to have an emotional attachment to the outcome of their efforts.

The effect of these messages also rippled out into the commercial sphere. Public consensus, arguably, put increasing pressure on firms to follow suit and a new benchmark emerged for commercial premises. Today, businesses across a wide variety of industries proudly display and promote their commitment to recycling and sustainability. It is no longer simply about corporate social responsibility – it has become a major brand differentiator.

The statistics speak for themselves. In 2004, EU member states recycled an average of 37 per cent of their waste. By 2014, this had risen to 44 per cent. There remains more to be done to propel recycling forward but public support was clearly instrumental in achieving initial traction.

External action

Clean energy innovations are at an important juncture. Production of renewable and smart energy technology is on the rise but new innovations need to ensure a groundswell of support and replicate recycling’s success. Already there is pressure for the industry to call time on fossil fuels but it isn’t enough to affect major change.

The reality is that there is widespread support. However, direct action is needed today. Citizenship engagement, in particular, could take the form of Government-led public campaigns or perhaps more community-based activities.

What’s clear is that efforts need to extend externally, beyond the lab, to ensure buy-in from all stakeholders. The likes of TBB 2017 provide a platform for the industry to collaborate and drive initiatives forward. Only then can we progress from investment and public sector procurement to true wide-scale adoption.

This part three of a three-part series. Please also take a look at parts one  and two.


Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash