Two Austrian energy regions ökoEnergieland and Energieregion Weiz-Gleisdorf, which show significant differences in their initial conditions, applied strategies and transition processes, have been selected as case study regions.
Güssing started in 1990 with the decision of the town's mayor to completely withdraw from fossil fuels, which resulted in a successful transition with a functioning local energy system, significant increase in regional value-added, and creation of new jobs. In 2005 the regional association ökoEnergieland was founded.
Energieregion Weiz–Gleisdorf, established in 1996, records a number of concluded energy projects, demonstrating innovations in passive house building, high-quality energetic renovation of large-scale buildings, and applications of solar technologies. Recently, it started concentrating on e-mobility. Both regions have been awarded several times in national and international competitions.
Our conceptual approach combines elements of transition theory, policy design and improvement, human-environmental systems research and modelling. Figure 1 shows how stakeholder perceptions and decision-making affect through their action the environmental system, here resources and energy flows. The changes in the environmental system, in turn, are perceived by the stake-holders, who balance the perceived effect with the goals they want to reach. This balance leads to new actions. The human-environment interaction is influenced by external boundary conditions, such as climate change, or regulated by national or EU policies, such as subsidies or educational programmes. One key element of our conceptual framework is the in-depth characterization of stakeholders’ decision-making, where we will consider (i) the goals and interests of individuals; (ii) regional factors and local environmental conditions, as well as (iii) external factors.
The research plan is structured into a kick-off workshop and three Modules. Project duration is 36 months, starting in April 2011.
Module 1 characterizes the transition dynamics in the study regions, which will include: (i) development of the physical resource base of the region; (ii) development of energy demand; (iii) industrial development in the region; (iv) socio-economic factors affecting households' investment and consumption decisions; (v) policies and external boundary conditions; and (vi) the development of the stakeholder map and network. Furthermore, we will analyze the relevant internal and external factors affecting the interaction between the social and the energy system in order to foster the transition towards a sustainable energy region.
Module 2 models and simulates the energy transition in the two energy regions. The model integrates technical, physical, social, and individual aspects and identifies critical feedbacks and delays among them. Specifically, it combines a dynamic energy flow model with a behavioural model to simulate the effect of policies on stakeholders' decision-making and on the energy infrastructure.
Module 3 develops and assesses policies, which should be able to support the development, the establishment, and the long-term maintenance of energy regions. These policies will be simulated and assessed with the developed model and the outcomes assessed in a transdisciplinary workshop.