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Social innovation supports inclusive and accelerated energy transitions with appropriate governance

Accelerating energy transitions that are both sustainable and just remains an important challenge, and social innovation can have a key role in this transition. Here, we examine the diversity and potential of social innovation in energy systems transformation, synthesizing original mixed methods data from expert interviews, document analysis, social innovation experiments, a representative survey, and an expert survey.

Based on a thematic analysis of these data, we advance four key findings: (1) the diversity of social innovation in energy is best understood when recognizing core social practices (thinking, doing, and organizing) and accounting for changes in social relations (cooperation, exchange, competition, and conflict); (2) governance, policy networks, and national context strongly shape social innovation dynamics; (3) processes of social innovation are implicated by multidimensional power relations that can result in transformative changes; and (4) social innovation in energy generally has strong social acceptance among citizens, benefits local communities and is legitimized in key community and city organizations. We discuss an agenda for future research directions on social innovation in energy, and conclude with insights related to national context, governance, and acceleration.

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