Science communication energy transition

Since April 2021, our research group has been part of the joint project "Science Communication Energy Transition", which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

The centerpiece of the project is the exhibition "Power2Change: Mission Energy Transition"which presents solutions for a climate-neutral, secure and affordable energy supply with a focus on the industrial, commercial and transport sectors. The scientific content for these solutions comes from the Kopernikus projects, the joint project Carbon2Chem®, the Fraunhofer Cluster CINES and other partners.

The project is coordinated by DECHEMA e. V. and Fraunhofer UMSICHT. The exhibition was conceived by the LWL-Industriemuseum, Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Industriekultur and the Klimahaus® Bremerhaven. Wissenschaft im Dialog is responsible for the accompanying program, the travelling exhibition and project communication.

The exhibition project is accompanied by communication science research. Our team is working on a total of four sub-projects.

  1. Analysis of media coverage of the energy transition to find out more about the scope and topics (e.g. hydrogen or energy grids) of the public debate and how this changes over time.
  2. The public's view of the energy transition will be examined through regional and national surveys. This involves analyzing what people in different regions and at different times think about the energy transition, the measures and changes associated with it, and in particular the topics of the exhibition (e.g. hydrogen). We are also investigating how people perceive and evaluate media coverage of the energy transition.
  3. The local energy transition sub-project looks at regional differences in commitment to implementing the energy transition. It examines which initiatives, companies, scientists, authorities, administrations, etc. are active locally and how this network of actors affects the success of the energy transition.
  4. Evaluation of the exhibitions through on-site and before-and-after surveys of visitors. This provides important insights into how the exhibition is received and where there is potential for improvement. This feedback is used for the further development of the exhibition.
Exhibition "Power2Change: Mission Energy Transition"

Exhibition "Power2Change: Mission Energy Transition"

VERNEDCT: Resource-efficient energy distribution grid through DC technology

The distribution of electrical energy is a challenge of the energy transition. In order to achieve a higher utilization of the grid infrastructure, the VERNEDCT project is researching a switch to direct current (DC). The use of direct current in distribution grids enables a significantly higher utilization of the grid infrastructure and thus reduces the use of resources for grid expansion. This means that significantly more energy can be distributed with the same amount of material compared to today's AC technology. The project will develop the technological basis for a new, fully inverter-fed distribution grid based on DC technology for urban areas, which can take over the tasks of today's grid levels 5-7 (medium and low voltage).

The conversion of distribution grids to DC technology is a comprehensive socio-technical transformation that is not only technologically feasible, but must also be accepted and supported by the various stakeholder groups involved in the transformation. Accordingly, the communicative involvement of affected stakeholder groups (grid operators, appliance manufacturers, tradespeople, the general public, etc.) is an important part of the project, which is being supported and researched by the EMPK.

Regional acceptance of grid expansion and renewable energy projects

In Germany, the energy transition is the central key to limiting climate change. However, the fundamental restructuring of the energy system is often met with resistance from the public. This raises the question of how communication about the energy transition can be improved.

As part of the "GLAS-LINK" study, we conducted a systematic literature review (n = 36 publications) to summarize the factors that influence the regional acceptance of grid expansion and renewable energy projects. The results provide several starting points for communicating the energy transition more successfully to the public.

The energy transition in the media and in people's minds

The energy transition in the media and in the minds of citizens

As part of the interdisciplinary research project RESIDENS (funded by the Thuringian Ministry of Education, Science and Culture from 2009 to 2012), the research group examined the social conditions for the increased use of renewable energies. Several content analyses were carried out to examine how the media portray the energy transition and smart metering. In addition, a three-wave representative panel survey investigated which media Thuringians use to find out about energy issues and how this media use affects their energy-related knowledge, attitudes and actions.

In addition, an international comparison was carried out between 11 countries with regard to media coverage of renewable energies. The study analyzed structural conditions as causes for differences in reporting.

Communication strategies of citizens' initiatives in the context of grid expansion

The expansion of the German high-voltage grid has led to protests in many affected regions in recent years. In most cases, citizens' initiatives have been the main drivers of these protests. Marco Bräuer's DFG-funded project "Communication Strategies of Local Environmental Initiatives" investigated how these initiatives organize their protests, how they see themselves and what factors influence their protest activities.

As the communication activities of citizens' initiatives have hardly been the subject of empirical research to date, a total of eight case studies were conducted with citizens' initiatives. The results show that citizens' initiatives closely observe the political and media discourse as well as the reactions of the population. Based on this, they actively develop problem interpretations and proposed solutions, which they communicate to the public in various arenas.

By analyzing the motivation of the protesters, their view of the conflict and of the other conflict actors, as well as through a detailed analysis of the communication activities of the citizens' initiatives, the results of the study should contribute to the improvement of communication and participation in the context of network expansion.

The dissertation (Bräuer 2017) has been published in the open access book series NEU-Kommunikation.

Fukushima and its consequences

A total of three studies were carried out in this area, dealing with the different social effects of the Fukushima power plant disaster in 2011. It was examined how the events in Japan were reported on in different countries. In addition, the impact of the disaster on reporting on renewable energies and the influence of reporting on citizens' attitudes towards nuclear energy were analyzed. The results of these projects have been published in the second volume of the NEU-Kommunikation book series, together with 10 other articles on the topic by researchers from other universities and research groups. In-depth analyses of two projects have also been published as journal articles.

In an international comparative study, the emotionality of reporting in the first 14 days after the disaster was analyzed using computer-aided, text-linguistic methods. Print media from Great Britain, the USA and Germany were compared. It was found that the emotions fear, anxiety and sadness played a greater role in the two English-speaking countries, while anger and rage were much more pronounced in Germany (Zeller, Arlt & Wolling 2014).

In a second international comparative study, reporting on renewable energies was examined in eleven countries from different parts of the world. The study focused on the question of whether the events in Fukushima have changed the framing of these forms of energy production and whether the reporting and its change can be explained by contextual factors in the countries studied. Overall, the results suggest that national media coverage is influenced by the conditions of the established energy supply system. Even the Fukushima nuclear disaster has not called these established patterns of thought into question (Bräuer & Wolling 2014; Rochyadi-Reetz, Arlt, Wolling & Bräuer 2019)

In a third study, a panel survey was used to identify attitudinal effects of the Fukushima reporting on a personal level. Weak but significant changes in attitudes were identified from 2010 to 2011. The risk of nuclear energy was rated higher in 2011 and renewable energies were rated more positively. The strength of the changes in attitudes was largely independent of personal characteristics or the intensity of media use (Arlt & Wolling 2014, 2016).

Influence of media communication on attitudes towards nuclear power

In her dissertation project, Dorothee Arlt investigated the influence of individual media use on attitudes towards nuclear energy using the example of the planned extension of the operating life of German nuclear power plants in 2010. The study was carried out using a two-method design. The attitudes and media usage behavior of Thuringians were surveyed in a representative telephone survey. In a quantitative content analysis of media reports, the arguments for or against a lifetime extension were coded. The data from the survey and the content analysis were directly linked at individual data level in order to investigate the influence of reporting on attitudes towards nuclear energy. The dissertation was the first publication in the NEU-Kommunikation book series.