Headline: A Social Performance Approach for the Energy Transition

Seizing the opportunities of the energy transition
Seizing the opportunities of the energy transition 10 10 via flickr.com, CC BY 2.0

By Laura Nagel, Phoebe Köster and Sebastian Helgenberger

The urgent need to forge a path towards a climate-neutral future is finally being acknowledged in Germany’s courts, parliaments, and business sector. With its ruling earlier this year on the Climate Protection Act, the Federal Constitutional Court has issued a landmark decision on climate justice. Support for climate action is also growing across society. Most parties have therefore given climate protection a high priority in their election programmes, with different emphases: social justice, a sustainable economy, and international responsibility. Several major corporations in Germany have also called on the government to take the lead in tackling the climate crisis. In June carmaker Audi announced that it would launch its last new model with an internal combustion engine in 2026.

Creating a better climate future will require massive changes in transport and energy policy. The ambitious expansion of renewable energy systems is a cornerstone of a transformation that also promises huge socio-economic opportunities, such as job growth, better energy access, and a decrease in the prevalence of respiratory diseases thanks to improved air quality.

With good planning, countries in the Global South especially can harness the energy transition to address local challenges. IASS Studies show that renewable energies have a positive impact on labour markets, commercial and private savings, and public health. Renewables create more jobs than fossil fuels in all of the countries examined in this research, which found that the ambitious expansion of renewable energy infrastructure could create 2.3 million jobs in India by 2030.

Renewables also harbour financial benefits for small businesses and households. Private actors and companies in South Africa could save up to 590 million euros by investing in solar energy. At the same time, energy systems with a higher share of renewables have a positive impact on health. Coal-fired power plants are a significant source of air pollution and contribute to respiratory diseases. Ditching dirty coal and expanding clean energy sources can significantly reduce premature deaths related to respiratory diseases – saving around 750 lives annually in Turkey.

Germany’s energy transition is also enjoying increasing support among the public: The Social Sustainability Barometer for the German Energiewende, which is prepared annually by IASS researchers, showed that 82% of German citizens support these transformative energy policies. Nevertheless, the survey also shows the need to improve the social sustainability of the energy transition by ensuring that the burdens and benefits are shared more fairly.

Various interest groups have already recognised the opportunities offered by the energy and traffic transitions. For example, the state of Berlin is developing a Solar City Master Plan in which citizens, companies, real estate owners and associations cooperate and contribute to the success of the project. Under the plan, local solar plants are to meet 25% of Berlin’s energy needs in the future, enabling the city to improve its climate performance and fostering resilience through energy independence. Renewable energy cooperatives, which bring citizens together to create a decentralized and independent energy supply, also have the advantage of ensuring that revenues from power generation benefit municipalities as well as local companies and communities (Hauser et al. 2015, IASS 2016, Kucharczack et al. 2016):

Taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by the energy transition will require the right policy environment. Although the positive effects of renewable energies are more widely acknowledged today, they are still often neglected in energy policy planning. For this to change, a 'Social Performance Approach' needs to be adopted in energy policy: In order to exploit the full potential of renewable energies in the future, the people affected as well as the positive social and economic impacts should all be included in climate and energy planning from the outset.


Hauser, E. et al. 2015. Nutzeneffekte von Bürgerenergie. Eine wissenschaftliche Qualifizierung und Quantifizierung der Nutzeneffekte der Bürgerenergie und ihrer möglichen Bedeutung für die Energiewende. IZES gGmbH.

IASS. 2016. Bürgerbeteiligung, kommunale Unternehmen, Energiewende: Wie passt das zusammen? Befunde zur Praxis der Bürgerbeteiligung. IASS Working Paper.

IASS. 2017. Mobilizing the co-benefits of climate change mitigation: Connecting opportunities with interests in the new energy world of renewables. IASS Working Paper, Juli 2017. https://www.iass-potsdam.de/de/ergebnisse/publikationen/2017/mobilizing….

IASS. 2020. Nach der Pandemie gemeinsam in die Zukunft: mit einer integrierten Klima- und Gesundheitspolitik für Mensch und Planet. - IASS Policy Brief, März 2020. https://publications.iasspotsdam.de/rest/items/item_6000244_2/component….

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IASS/CSIR. 2019. Consumer savings through solar PV self-consumption in South Africa. Assessing the co-benefits of decarbonising the power sector. Potsdam/Pretoria.

IASS/IPC. 2020. Improving people’s health and unburdening the health system through renewable energy in Turkey. Assessing the co-benefits of decarbonising the power sector. COBENEFITS Report. Potsdam/Istanbul.

IASS/TERI. 2019. Future skills and job creation with renewable energy in India. Assessing the co-benefits of decarbonising the power sector. Potsdam/New Delhi.

Kucharczack, L. et al. 2016. Regionale Wertschöpfung in der Windindustrie am Beispiel Nordhessen. Durchgeführt im Auftrag von: SUN Stadtwerke Union Nordhessen GmbH & Co.

Mbungu, G. K., & Helgenberger, S. 2021. The social performance approach. Fostering community well-being through energy-sector investments. IASS Discussion Paper, Juni 2021.


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