Europeans want decentralized power supply and low prices

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Prof. Dr. Johan Lilliestam, Lehrstuhl für Sustainability Transition Policy an der FAU (Bild: FAU/Georg Pöhlein)

Study reveals what citizens in four different countries want

Although a majority of the population in Europe is generally in favor of the energy transition, specific projects are increasingly coming up against resistance. What can be done to improve the expansion of renewable energies? In a new study, researchers from various institutions including FAU have revealed the wishes of citizens from Denmark, Germany, Poland and Portugal. In all four countries, low electricity costs, less dependence on electricity imports and an increased use of solar energy are particularly popular. However, those surveyed were prepared to compromise and would accept disadvantages of a system if this entailed other benefits at the same time.

“We wanted to record the preferences of the citizens as accurately as possible and therefore chose a research method known as a conjoint experiment, where participants have to weigh up different options. We did not ask for opinions on individual aspects such as technologies, locations and costs. Instead, we offered those surveyed with different supply options and then asked them how they would decide,” explains leading author Dr. Franziska Mey from the Research Institute for Sustainability – Helmholtz Centre Potsdam (RIFS). A total of 4103 people in four countries were questioned.

Electricity price is the most important criterium

The options presented in the survey differ in view of six aspects known to influence the acceptance of energy transition projects: the main technology deployed, land requirements, the share of electricity imported into the region, the price households have to pay for electricity, the expansion of overhead line mast capacities and whether power generators are owned publicly or privately. The result: The major deciding factor by a long way is the price for electricity.

“When weighing up the various criteria, those surveyed placed their desire for low electricity costs in first place. This was also confirmed in follow-up questions, in which it became clear that our future power system has to be cost effective and socially fair,” explains Franziska Mey. The second most important criterium according to Prof. Dr. Johan Lilliestam, holder of the Chair of Sustainability Transition Policy at FAU, is a low share of imports. “If it was up to the citizens to decide, the future power system would be decentralized. It would be based on a power supply generated to a significant degree by solar panels mounted on roofs, it would be owned by local government and it would only depend on imports to a small degree.” When it comes to the choice of technology, ranked third in the list of priorities, those surveyed preferred photovoltaic technology over wind energy. The preferred option was roof-mounted solar panels.

In Germany and Denmark, which are similarly advanced in terms of the energy transition, the people surveyed displayed very similar preferences. People in Portugal and Poland gave less importance to the share of imports. Poland differed in particular in view of price preferences. Here, price plays a less important role, possibly due to the comparatively low energy prices in Poland (€0.15/kWh in 2021; Germany €0.32/kWh in 2021).

Energy models should integrate citizens’ preferences

At the same time, the results indicated that citizens are willing to make compromises. For example, less favored aspects such as the expansion of wind energy or higher imports may be set off against lower prices. This makes it possible to develop very different systems with similar benefits.

These findings may help decision makers decide on power systems of the future based on improved energy models. “The energy models used nowadays often focus on technology and economic aspects, while little if any consideration is given to social aspects such as the preferences of citizens. At best, people are asked for an opinion after scenarios have been drawn up already,” explains co-author Dr. Tim Tröndle from ETH Zürich. “Thanks to our research, citizens’ preferences can be integrated directly into energy models and thereby into designing scenarios and contributing to a fairer energy transition.” However, as citizens’ opinions may change over time it is important to repeat surveys on a regular basis.

Further information


Prof. Dr. Johan Lilliestam

Chair of Sustainability Transition Policy

Phone: +49 911 5302 95229

The professorship is funded as part of the High-Tech Agenda Bavaria. With this program, the Bavarian government is providing funding for key areas for the future, such as artificial intelligence, clean tech and aeronautics, strengthening Bavaria’s leading position in research and teaching and encouraging the development of new ideas and the latest technologies and their practical application.