Vienna: Social Innovations in Smart Cities

Bristol Energy Network attended a workshop February 2017 to explore bottom up approaches in tackling fuel poverty and the rebound effect.

By Dave Tudgey

Tobias Rogalli, from the Austrian Institute for Sustainable Development, kindly invited Bristol Energy Network (BEN) to take part in a workshop in Vienna, Austria to discuss social innovations to reduce energy poverty and rebound-effects.

Many of you will be familiar with the term fuel poverty/energy poverty but may not be so familiar with the rebound-effect. The rebound-effects exist, whereby higher efficiency can lead to lower energy costs and greater consumption (as defined by the IPPC report 2014). The rebound-effect is the reduction in expected gains from new (Smart-City) -technologies that increase the efficiency of resource use, because of behavioural or other systemic responses.

BEN was one of four European Best-Practice-examples represented at the workshop:

  • Berlin -Stromspar-Check – Case study of household energy surveys in fuel poor households and their process of how they engage householders to reduce energy consumption in the home

  • Barcelona First Catalan Congress about energy poverty) – Bottom-up approach through an Energy Congress of NGO’s and local government from across four city regions. Projects include creating an Energy Savings Bank and Social Worker Network to tackle fuel poverty in each neighbourhood centre

  • Bristol Energy Network – Bottom-up approach to community energy, with the Bristol Community Strategy for Energy and development of projects such as Cold Homes Energy Efficiency Survey Experts (CHEESE)

  • Zurich 2000 Watts Society- the project aims to reduce energy consumption to 2000 watts per person. The price of energy in Switzerland is moderate but reducing rebound-effects is one of the main tasks to tackle. They developed an app that works with householders to reduce energy consumption

IMG_5145The presentations were very interesting if a little hard to follow as they were mostly in German. These were followed by working sessions to analyse and discuss what we had heard in groups to look at the problems around fuel poverty and then similarly with the rebound-effects. 

The above is Dr. Dietmar Kanatschnig from the Austrian Institute for Sustainable Development – introducing the programme and explaining the themes/topics clustered around three key areas relating to fuel poverty: 1) condition of properties – and ownership issues e.g. landlord, 2) investment Issues, and 3) government policy issues.

We looked at current studies regarding the rebound-effects which suggest that the goals cannot sufficiently be achieved through technological innovations like smart meters alone. More than half the technologically possible resource savings are lost due to our society’s inability to adequately use these new technologies. Hence, a stronger connection between technological and social innovations is necessary and a number of social innovations unrelated to technology need to be achieved as well to gain influence with the public.

The workshop explored the underlying behaviours and structural issues that contribute to the rebound-effects. The topics and examples from the clustering of the rebound-effects were: 1) Causes for economical and resource rebound-effects, providing incentives to tackle rebound effects, 2) Raising awareness, information needed how to use new technologies in an efficient manner, 3) Social causes, peer pressure according the consummation, artificial needs.

In groups we looked at some examples of projects tackling fuel poverty:

  • Community Energy Savings Bank – Energy saving equipment installed in homes (savings paying back the cost of units. E.g. fridges, insulation)

  • Local observatory for fuel poverty – local measurement of effectiveness of fuel poverty measures – analysing if fuel poverty is reducing

  • Local and national policies, training, to encourage skilling up local labour force in implementing energy efficiency measures.

  • Local & national housing policies, setting minimum standards of buildings for rental properties, in terms of energy efficiency which are reviewed each year to create regular improvements to housing stock – similar to newly introduced legislation in UK for rented properties


IMG_5152It was a fantastic opportunity to hear from other European Cities their thoughts around the topic of fuel poverty and rebound-effects as well as the opportunity to discuss their approaches to tackling these issues. The workshop has certainly helped me think through different approaches to communities engaging in energy issues, tackling fuel poverty and the rebound-effects. Each of the case studies reflected their own national energy context, for example, Zurich has the cheapest energy but with more problems around rebound-effects, and Barcelona’s national policies are not supporting people in fuel poverty.

This was the first of three workshops on social innovations, with national and international experts from science, municipal administration and societies. The next workshops will be on measures to enhance desirable effects of technological innovations in regards to sustainable lifestyle and business. They will also be exploring measures to support those prerequisites in education and governance that are necessary for the effectiveness of social innovations. The outputs of the workshop will be incorporated into a Smart Cities demonstration project in Linz. A report will be written following other workshops covering different topics in September.

One of the outcomes that has already emerged from this workshop has been for the university to explore developing a network for social Innovations in Smart Cities around behaviour change. I will be continuing dialogue with the university and those case studies highlighted. We are keen to take this learning and develop an energy conversation in Bristol to discuss what sufficient energy use in the city looks like and how we ensure that it is a clean and fair energy system.