The Netherlands’ commitment to discontinue natural gas use by 2050 requires the cooperation of 7 million households. Technologically, the solutions are already there. You can install an all-electric heat pump, heat grids can be built, solar panels can be installed, and there are more options. However, many people do not know how to choose, what to choose, or when to switch, and are waiting for others to take the first steps.

In the ENRGISED project, Industrial Design Engineering (IDE) researchers from the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) together with Social Science and Computer Science colleagues of the University of Utrecht investigate social contagion of decision making, or in other words, how people are influenced by others in their networks to switch to renewable energy sources.

The strategy of contagion will be broken down into three stages of identity, activate and accelerate (see Figure 1), each with a distinct research question:

  • Stage 1: Identify seed households. How to identify which households in a certain neighbourhood network can be responsive targets to stimuli?
  • Stage 2: Activate the seed households. What kinds of stimuli (social, economic, design) can increase the likelihood that the seed households adopt alternative sources of energy?
  • Stage 3: Accelerate the social contagion: a chain reaction of behavioural transmission among network neighbours. How likely is it that the transition of a specific household results in a cascading effect (of adoptions) among other households within that neighbourhood network? What system interventions can increase this likelihood?

To address this major challenge the project will use a three-step research design structure (see Figure 2) to map, analyse, and model the social relationships between households and the interdependency in decision making. This information will be used to design social interventions and tools to accelerate the energy transition in networks.

The role of the project research team is primarily to develop an intervention strategy in which citizens mobilise each other and help make alternatives acceptable. This will include energy transition tools, a toolkit for general use, and a transition design framework. Figure 3 illustrates the different actions that will be undertaken to implement the entire project.

With local partners, this strategy and toolkit will be tested in field trials. The objective is to make energy transitions contagious. Ultimately, this would result in social innovations that actualise the Netherlands’ commitment to discontinue natural gas use by 2050.

From the ENRGISED team.