Science Communication "Energy Transition"

Since April 2021, the research group is part of the project "Science Communication Energy Transition" which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The project is carried out in cooperation with the LWL Industrial Museum in Hattingen, the Klimahaus Bremerhaven, Wissenschaft im Dialog, the Society for Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology (Dechema), the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology (UMSICHT), and the Fraunhofer Cluster of Excellence Integrated Energy Systems (CINES).

The background to the project is the energy transition and the goal of covering the energy supply exclusively with renewable energies by 2045. In order to achieve this, science and research are working on various solutions and technological innovations that will bring about profound changes for society as a whole. Accordingly, the success of the energy transition depends not only on the political and technological framework, but also on society's willingness to support this transformation process and actively participate in it. Therefore, the aim of this project is to bring research on the energy transition closer to the population within several exhibitions and accompany these with numerous events and participatory offerings.

The EMPK is accompanying this project with comprehensive research in the field of communication science, focusing on the following research questions:

(1) What prior knowledge and attitudes do citizens have about the themes of the exhibitions and how can these be incorporated into the conception and further development of the exhibitions?

(2) How do different media report on the themes of the exhibitions and what changes can be measured over time (before, during and after the exhibitions)?

(3) What public discourses do citizens have about the themes of the exhibitions in social media and comment columns?

(4) What influence does the structural environment of the exhibition venues and the related conceptual differences in the exhibitions have on how the exhibitions are perceived and evaluated by visitors and what learning effects, emotional effects, as well as attitude and mobilisation effects occur?

To answer these research questions, a broad mix of quantitative and qualitative methods will be used (including media content analyses, qualitative interviews and group discussions, regional panel surveys in the context of the exhibitions, evaluation of the exhibitions through on-site and before-and-after surveys).

The Energy transition in media coverage and citizen attitude

As part of the interdisciplinary RESIDENS research project (funded by the Thuringian Ministry of Education, Science and Culture from 2009 to 2012), the research group has investigated the social conditions for the increased use of renewable energies. Several content analyses focused on how the media present the energy transition and smart metering. In addition, a three-wave representative panel survey was conducted to find out which media the Thuringians used to inform themselves about energy issues and what effect this media use had on energy-related behavior, and on citizens' attitudes towards solar and wind energy, pumped storage plants, grid expansion and smart meter technology.

Besides, an international comparison between 11 countries concerning the media coverage on renewable energy was conducted. The study analyzed structural conditions as causes for differences in the coverage.

Communication Strategies of Initiatives in Opposition of Network Expansions

In recent years, the expansion of the German high voltage grid has led to protests in many of the affected regions. In most cases, citizens' initiatives are the main supporters of these protests. How these initiatives organize the protest, what self-image they have and what factors influence their protest activities was investigated in the DFG-funded project "Communication Strategies of Local Environmental Initiatives" by Marco Bräuer[MB1] .

Since the communication activities of citizens' initiatives have so far hardly been the subject of empirical research, a total of eight case studies with citizens' initiatives were carried out. The results show that citizens' initiatives carefully observe the political and media discourse as well as the reactions they receive from the population. Building on this, they actively develop problem interpretations and proposed solutions, which they communicate to the public in different arenas.

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

The dissertation (Bräuer 2017) was published in the Open Access book series NEU-Kommunikation.

Fukushima and its consequences

A total of three investigations have been carried out in this field, dealing with different social effects of the 2011 power plant disaster in Fukushima. It was examined how the events in Japan were reported in different countries. In addition, it was analyzed how the disaster affected the reporting on renewable energies and what influence the reporting had on the attitudes of citizens towards nuclear power. The results of these projects have been published in the second volume of the book series NEU-Kommunikation together with 10 further articles on the issue authored 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 the reporting in the first 14 days after the disaster was analyzed with the help of computer-aided, text-linguistic methods. Print media from Great Britain, the USA and Germany were compared. It was found that in the two English-speaking countries the emotions of fear, anxiety and sadness played a greater role, while in Germany anger and rage were much more pronounced (Zeller, Arlt & Wolling 2014).

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

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

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