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During the lively discussion, Dr. Arne Höll from the BMWi emphasised that the new energy research programme includes acceptance research and that the ministry’s new grid platform offers an example of participative communication.
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Acceptance research decisive for technologies
26.01.2012

Participation encourages the energy revolution

In Germany, technologies for capturing and storing carbon dioxide have so far failed to gain acceptance. This sixty social scientists and technicians attending the “Acceptance Research on CCS” workshop held at the Wuppertal Institute were in agreement in this respect. One aspect that has not failed, however, is the research on how acceptance develops among the population. Many large-scale technologies ranging from wind farms to high-voltage grids are faced with the need to find acceptance – not least through participation.

Acceptance cannot be artificially created but is at most measurable, which, however, makes it able to be influenced. Three research projects have investigated this aspect using CCS as an example. CCS stands for “carbon capture and storage” and encompasses a series of technologies that are able to combat global warming because they remove the greenhouse gas CO2 from the atmosphere and store it underground. Since 2009, the Wuppertal Institute (WI) and the Jülich Institute of Energy and Climate Research (IEK-STE) have being monitoring the communication of CCS in Germany. Using funding from the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi), they have investigated the factors influencing the acceptance of CCS using multivariate analyses. The social researchers have concluded that the communication should focus more on conveying the benefits of the technologies for society, whereby it should enable citizens to assess the benefits of the technologies themselves. In future acceptance research, the scientists want to focus more on how the benefits are assessed and how this assessment becomes stabilised.

Practitioners on the podium

In the second part of the workshop, the practitioners and researchers discussed the latest findings. They pointed out that, although the practical implementation has failed for the time being, the acceptance problems are concerned not just with the CCS technologies. They said that there is no one given truth about CO2 – even if the different interest groups would argue otherwise.
The social scientists emphasise that their forecasts are not very precise. Nevertheless they note that four statements apply in particular when communicating technology in Germany. Firstly, technology is offered as a solution in the race to innovate. Secondly, technology is always immediately associated with resulting problems. Thirdly, technology alienates people in their everyday lives, which is shown by their fear of losing control. And fourthly, technology is blamed for the crisis of confidence in the political and economic decision makers. All these can be influenced through communication that does not just rely on conveying knowledge but also on participation at an early stage. 

Right at the beginning of the workshop, professors from the host institutes identified two important prerequisites for successfully communicating technology. Jürgen-Friedrich Hake (IEK-STE) would like to see a legally and politically binding framework for climate protection, without which he said that there could be no acceptance. WI head Manfred Fischedick referred to the supposed dilemma that participation takes considerable time that is not actually available because of the need to speed up infrastructure measures as part of the energy revolution. He pointed out, however, that well-conducted participation processes can achieve exactly the opposite, since by pre-empting controversial debates and through greater engagement with citizens they can spare the need for protracted processes during the implementation phase, which means that overall they can be deemed to be an accelerating tool.

An English language website provides detailed information on the "CCS Communication" research project. The "oekom verlag" publishing house wants to publish the results of the workshop in book form. The technological research on CCS in Germany is described in detail by the "KraftwerkForschung" website.

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