SONNET (Social Innovation in Energy Transitions)

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SONNET is an ongoing research project on Social Innovation in Energy Transition, with a strong urban dimension.

SONNET Website

General introduction

Typology of Social Innovation in Energy Transitions as part of SONNET project. Picture Credits: Maria Fraaije

Social Innovation in Energy Transition (SONNET) is a three-year transdisciplinary research project that brings diverse groups together to make sense of how social innovation can bring about a more sustainable energy sector in Europe. The project runs from June 2019 to May 2022 and is funded by European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Action (RIA) programme. SONNET refers to social innovation in energy (SIE) as socio-material configurations of ideas, objects and/or activities that change social relations and involve new ways of thinking, doing and/or organizing energy [1]. The overall aim of SONNET is to establish novel understandings of the diversity, processes and contributions of social innovation in the energy sector, and critically evaluate and assess their success and future potential towards supporting sustainable transitions of energy systems.

The project brings together 6 cities (Warsaw, Mannheim, Grenoble, Bristol, Basel, Antwerp) and 6 research institutions (Kosminsky university, Fraunhofer ISI, Grenoble Ecole de Management, SPRU, ZHAW, DRIFT) to co-create and disseminate knowledge on social innovation and energy transitions. This is done by combining practical knowledge from local government staff, civil society organizations and policy makers with academic insights from sustainability transitions, energy studies and social innovation literature. The transdisciplinary approach uses 6 city labs, research workshops, multiple in-depth case studies, a mapping of 500 social innovations in energy transition (SIE), citizen surveys and literature review.

Main insights on/for sustainable just cities

The clean-energy transition doesn't just pose technological and scientific challenges; it also requires a better understanding of cross-cutting issues related to socio-economic, socio-cultural (including gender) and socio-political issues. The SONNET project takes an urban context and collaboration between citizens, researchers, companies, policy makers and local government in the city labs to collectively “initiate and observe current and unfolding social innovation processes in the energy sector”[2].

These city labs directly work towards tackling urban (un)sustainability and in some cases towards (in)justice in the cities for sustainable energy transition. In addition, SONNET aspires to assess the future potential and implications of SIE, and also to include a critical perspective on gender issues[3]. The findings will be used to create an integrated knowledge framework of socio-economic, socio-cultural and socio-political understanding of enabling or impeding conditions of SIE.

The focus and aims of the project’s 6 city labs are mentioned as follows:

  • Warsaw with Kosminsky university: Co-creating novel governance schemes to make energy more visible, better understood, and promote efficient use among users
  • Mannheim with Fraunhofer ISI: Novel governance for enhancing SIE
  • Grenoble with Grenoble Ecole de Management: Novel social innovation methods to make ‘energy sobriety’ behavior or reducing/avoiding energy use more attractive and attainable to users
  • Bristol with SPRU: Innovating financial models such as crowdfunding to retrofit energy system in social housing
  • Basel with ZHAW: Testing impact on energy users through Enerjoy App which tracks individual CO2 print and give personalized feedback.
  • Antwerp with DRIFT: Social Innovation for inclusive energy transition especially including those vulnerable to energy poverty.

Suggested key readings & links

Link to other Wiki-pages

Several approaches for sustainable and just cities that are described in UrbanA Wiki’s - Database of Approaches - can be found in SONNET’s recently finished mapping of 500 social innovations in energy transition. Some approaches with examples of social innovation initiatives are -

Besides SIE mapping, the approach of city labs in SONNET is associated with the approach of Experimentation labs of UrbanA. Furthermore, the SONNET project builds on the TRANSIT project on transformative social innovation, taking several concepts and propositions and developing them further within the specific context of energy.

Further reading




  1. Haxeltine, Alex, Bonno Pel, Adina Dumitru, Flor Avelino, René Kemp, Tom Bauler, Iris Kunze, Jens Dorland, Julia M. Wittmayer, and Michael Soegaard Jorgensen. 2017. Towards a TSI Theory: A Relational Framework and 12 Propositions. Transit Working Paper #16.
  2. Kotler, A. (2019, November 28). Co-creation, communication and lots of energy: My day with SONNET. SONNET Energy.
  3. Allen, Elizabeth, Hannah Lyons, and Jennie C. Stephens. 2019. “Women’s Leadership in Renewable Transformation, Energy Justice and Energy Democracy: Redistributing Power.” Energy Research and Social Science 57(July):101233.