Socio-Economic Research

AuthorEuropean Union Publications Office, 2006

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Overview: Major Fields of Research

Socio-economic research aims at a comprehensive understanding of the structure and evolution of science, technology (S&T) and innovation activities, and of the present and future challenges to be addressed by Europe's research and innovation policies. Its aim is to develop knowledge and decision-aiding tools to help decision-makers in policy, industry and civil society develop coherent activities.

The objectives of socio-economic research within the EC RTD NNE portfolio are manifold and refer to different time frames, focusing on diverse perspectives and using different methods:

* Socio-economic research is focused both on the short and medium term problems to be solved, as well as the development of longer-term potential scenarios133.

* Socio-economic research related to energy RTD is systematically integrated into research carried out in the technological areas. One prominent example is research into environmental challenges in the context of grid-related issues in the offshore wind and ocean area.

* Beyond this project-specific focus, common and harmonised tools are developed to tackle the complex social and economic issues of new energy technologies. Thematic issues are, for example, competition with conventional energy technologies in a medium to long term perspective, questions of the socio-environmental damage of energy production and consumption, of the implementation of new and emerging energy technologies in society, and of shaping a future sustainable energy system. Forecasting models are devised to support strategies for energy governance as well as to define the alternative ways of achieving sustainable development objectives.

Research Objectives in the EC

In FP6, the strategically important areas for socio-economic tools and concepts are:

Energy total costs: to evaluate and compare the systems costs, including quantification of the social and environmental damage.

Energy external costs: methodological development to better quantify the social and environmental damage of energy production and consumption in the EU, in the Accession States and in the Mediterranean area.

Social acceptability and behaviour: optimal conditions for implementing medium and long term energy technologies, including economic aspects, consumer preferences and citizen needs. The socio-economic impacts of sustainable policies and measures should also be covered from an EU and world perspective, including developing countries.

Socio-economic impact of sustainable policies: to evaluate these sustainable policies from an EU and world perspective, especially focusing on the new EU Member States and the Mediterranean countries.

Quantitative and qualitative forecasting methods: energy-economy-environmental forecasts for the long term (2020-2030) and very long term (2050-2100) should deal with resource depletion, climate change and radioactive waste management and other issues at the EU and world levels. Integration of energy, economy and environmental aspects, comparison of various models and alternative scenarios that permit an assessment of the evolution of sustainable development.

Ethics in energy: the aim should be to analyse the implications and produce guidelines for ethical governance taking into account all energy policy issues and covering the entire energy chain.

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Funding and Key Conclusions for Socio-Economic Research
European Commission-Funded Research

The Commission has arranged its socio-economic NNE RTD activities around four key issues:

* Modelling and Scenarios

* Direct and External Costs

* Policy Instruments and Governance

* Social Acceptability and Human Behaviour.

The first two issues are concerned with economic research and the development and use of economic models, the second two focus on more policy-related and socio-cultural aspects of the new energy technologies and infrastructures, as well as demand-side issues. These last two call for both an increased level of research and greater coordination134.

Compared to FP5 funding, the budget for energy-related socio-economic research nearly doubled in FP6135. In particular the budgets for research of policy impact analysis and for social acceptability and human behaviour have increased significantly.

Research Funded at EU Country Level

The socio-economic research objectives of the Member States - like providing knowledge and a better understanding of impacts to decision-makers - are very much the same as for the EC, but with the proviso of a distinct national focus.

In Germany, for example, the IKARUS model is used to identify and assess the impact of energy policies on the German economy and society. Other tools are used to evaluate the ecological impact of measures. Future paths to a sustainable energy system, including socio-cultural aspects, are among the issues addressed in the FONA programme (Research for Sustainability)136.

Research Funded at Third Country Level

Socio-economic research in the US is largely driven by the principle that market mechanisms are the best control option. Modelling tools are used to a great extent to derive cost-reduction goals for energy RTD. Research activities are very much justified according to whether commercialisation goals are achieved by a certain date. Only if positive results are expected do the respective energy technologies become part of the funding scheme. After thorough evaluation, and in the event that funded areas do not achieve their expected targets, these technology lines are phased out (cf Chapter on Concentrated Solar Thermal).

Socio-economic research in the US is not centrally addressed in one programme but scattered over different institutions: two of the more important ones are the DoE and the Environmental Protection Agency, each of which in turn has numerous other internal institutions that are involved. In addition, aspects of socio-economic research are covered in many technical programmes. All US energy R&D programmes contain research on regulatory obstacles and on the impact of measures and systems on minority groups or disabled people.

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Comparability of funding data is more than limited in this field. The IEA's RTD data contains one item, "Energy Systems Analysis", which in definition corresponds well with the socio-economic research done by the EC. However many countries (e.g. the US) provide no data at all for this category, or give budgets which are unrealistically small. The reason is that many countries perform socio-economic research as part of their technological research -either integrated into the projects themselves or as separate projects funded under the same budget line - and this makes it difficult to extract the funding levels actually allocated to socio-economic tools and activities.

According to the IEA data, the socio-economic research of European countries received a total of euros 38 M per year on average in the period 2000-2004. For the reasons described above, the real research effort in this field can be anticipated as much higher. Comparing the relative data, however, gives valuable insight into the different priority settings between the Member States and the EC. The Member States invest more than 5% of their NNE budgets in socio-economic research - bearing in mind the above-mentioned data gaps, the figure should be even higher -while socio-economic research represents only 3% of the EC's NNE portfolio.

It has to be noted that with the introduction of IP socio-economic aspects, especially development towards sus-tainability, these are increasingly addressed in technical projects as well. It can still be concluded, however, that Member States spend a slightly higher share of their energy RTD budget on socio-economic issues.


[133] - compare EC 2005: Socio-economic Projects in Energy, Transport and Environment

[134] - ERAWOG 2005, p.34

[135] - For details of EC funding for socio-economic research in FP5 and FP6, please refer to Annex VII.3

[136] - Funding data is not available as the application of these tools is often included in larger programmes or projects and it is virtually impossible to extract the relevant data unless a study is conducted on a per project basis.

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