Understanding the challenges for citizens in the municipal heat transition: A case study of the city of Itzehoe, Germany
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In light of the immense challenges of the energy crisis that Germany and many other European countries are currently facing, it becomes evident that a far-reaching energy transition is needed. While a shift away from fossil fuels can be seen in the German electricity sector, the heating sector remains in a fossil lock-in, as only 17.4 % of the domestic and industrial heat used in Germany was produced by using renewable energies (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Klimaschutz, n.d.). The transformation of the heating sector requires using and intelligently combining locally available energy potentials while considering existing infrastructure. Therefore, municipalities play a central role in the transition process. But most importantly the transition of the heating system includes many measures that take place within people’s living spaces, which puts domestic energy users at the core of the transition process, necessitating a shift from passive consumerism to increased involvement. Therefore, the objective of this research was to understand the challenges for citizens’ involvement in the heat transition. To do so a case study was conducted in the city of Itzehoe, Germany based on survey research, interviews with local key actors, and a policy analysis. The results indicate that the HT in Itzehoe is still at an early stage being a system widely dominated by fossil fuels, but it also suggests that the citizens of Itzehoe are aware of the importance of the energy transition and are motivated to contribute to a more sustainable energy system. However, it also shows that it is important to not overemphasize the responsibility of individuals, as the data suggest that a wide range of structural challenges hamper citizens’ involvement. An overarching and reoccurring theme is the necessity to develop a clear vision for the transition process and the necessity to improve the information flow from the national government, the municipality, the utility provider, and actors from the housing sector to the citizens to make involvement possible. This is especially relevant for the plans for heating networks, as these significantly influence homeowners’ decision-making, Further, it can be seen that the current political framework does not take the different financial situations of homeowners into account and fails to protect tenants from over-proportional allocation of costs.