Newsletter #1

Newsletter #1 23 October 2014
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Hello ,

Welcome to the first issue of the INSPIRE-Grid newsletter. Our EU funded project started almost one year ago and we are happy to share the first results with you. INSPIRE-Grid is a research project that stands for Improved and eNhanced Stakeholders’ Participation In Reinforcement of Electricity Grid.” With ten partners from six different countries, INSPIRE-Grid aims to increase stakeholder engagement in grid expansion projects, better manage conflicts, and speed up the permitting process. By way of an interdisciplinary approach, INSPIRE-Grid will develop stakeholder-led processes and design an expert-led European good practice guide. Methods to facilitate decision-making will be newly combined with engagement tools and tested with stakeholders from existing or concluded grid development project case studies.

INSPIRE-Grid partners: research institutes (Ricerca sul Sistema Energetico – RSE SpA (coordinator), Association pour la recherché et le developpement des methods et processus industriels – ARMINES, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich – ETHZ, Institut für ZukunftsEnergieSysteme – IZES, Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung – PIK, Poliedra Centri di Conoscenza e Formazione del Politecnico di Milano – Poliedra), transmission system operators (National Grid, RTE, Statnett), and the stakeholder platform Renewables-Grid-Initiative – RGI.

You can find more information about the project structure, partners, and all related publications on .

In this issue:

Logo INSPIRE-Grid-003

1. Get to know our partners: RSE and ETH Zurich

RSE (Ricerca sul Sistema Energetico) SpA belongs to GSE Group (“Gestore Servizi Energetici” SpA), a public company entirely owned by the Italian Government. The RSE Spa mission is to perform public interest R&D programs and address national energy, environmental and economic goals with an open view to EU research initiatives. RSE is mainly financed by the public fund “Research for the National Electric System”, on the basis of three-year Implementing Agreements with the Ministry of Economic Development (MiSE). RSE is recognised in Europe as a non-profit research organisation with an extensive and very successful role in integrating national research programmes with EU directives and plans, currently cooperating in more than 50 international research projects. Moreover, RSE is actively involved in supporting the Ministry of Economic Development with the aim of implementing the EU Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan), with an active role in the Joint Programme of the European Energy Research Alliance (EERA) on Smart Grids as well as in the European Industrial Initiatives on Electricity Grids (EEGI) and Wind Energy (EEWI).

We asked Antonio Negri, coordinator of INSPIRE-Grid, four questions:

  • Why is stakeholder engagement in grid projects important and why do you think research for this topic is needed?

I would like to begin my answer quoting the famous systems theorist Donella Meadows[1] who summarized a correct approach to a system, as follows: “We can’t impose our will on a system. We can listen to what the system tells us, and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much better than could ever be produced by our will alone.” Mutatis mutandis, it seems to me to be a very effective and synthetic approach to be applied to stakeholder engagement.

Now, when it comes to grid development issues, it should be noted that energy related projects are facing diffused opposition, or at least difficult acceptance, as shown in the table here below (although quite dated, I’m convinced it’s still valid):


In Europe in particular, the following are average construction times, according to UCTE (Union for the Co-ordination of Transmission of Electricity):

  • 3 – 5 years for a Combined Cycle Gas Turbine power plant
  • 7 – 10 years for a high voltage overhead transmission line

These are due to the complexity of and difficulties related to authorization procedures, including lack of public acceptance.

On the other hand, grid development is nowadays often part of a greater process of restructuring the energy system, accommodating the percentage increase of renewable and distributed generation and allowing for the better integration of different geographical areas (which in turn, implies better security of supply and use of different energy sources).

The “base values” underlying the change in the energy system are generally shared by an increasing number of stakeholders. There is, however, difficulty in establishing the connection between the need to change our energy model and the need for new infrastructure as well as a lack of tools to help compare “general” benefits with “local” costs.

This reflection brings us back to the issue of the values and the properties of the “system” that Donella Meadows was talking about (i.e. stakeholders in their “global” and “singular” views). Let me conclude this by quoting an inquiry recently conducted in the UK on the public attitudes toward changing the country’s energy system[2]: “We conclude that meaningful public acceptability may only be achieved if it is rooted, in a significant way, in the described value system. Publics are unlikely to settle for a form of change that does not show signs of commitment to the longer-term trajectories commensurate with these values.”

  • Why did you decide to join the INSPIRE-Grid consortium and what is, in your view, the added value of the project?

The idea to organize a consortium to participate in the FP7 Call originated from my experience as chairman of Cigre’s Study Committee, “C3 – System environmental performance”[3]; public acceptance and stakeholders’ engagement issues have been largely discussed inside the committee with two working groups dedicated (2003-2006 and 2009-2012) to exploring its different aspects.

I started an inquiry among the European T&D Utilities represented in the committee and was immediately strongly supported by RTE (the French TSO) and RGI. Other companies have also declared their interest and thanks to RGI, we could also involve some important NGOs.

Although I think that it’s too early in the project to extract any results or consider its impact (project began in October 2013), I would say that important added value is yet to come (according to these first 6-7 months of operation, it is well on its way), namely from the collaboration among TSOs, engineers and social scientists that all present their respective views and methodologies in the frame of three real case studies (i.e. grid expansion projects) that are in different countries, of different complexity and in different stages of completion.


  • What is special about the INSPIRE-Grid consortium?

I have already emphasized the presence (and more importantly, effective collaboration) of TSOs, engineers and social scientists.

I would also like to underline the presence of Observers in the consortium comprised of some important NGOs, Public Bodies, and TSOs. The Observers are invited to the annual Project assemblies (the next one will take place in Berlin at the end of October 2014) and receive the Project’s documentation.

I think that this will guarantee some degree of “validation” of project results as well as help the dissemination phase.


  • What are the next steps of the project?

Current activities deal with:

  • the analysis and development of a comprehensive “stakeholder’s map”, allowing for the categorization and clustering of the relevant stakeholders involved in electric grid development projects, together with the analysis of their main concerns, needs and wants;
  • the selection of the most appropriate engagement tools and the development/tailoring of suitable assessment tools, the latter being devoted to a “fair” comparison of impacts (often of local type) and benefits (often of “general” type) of new grid projects.

It should be emphasized that the engagement and assessment tools in the INSPIRE-Grid Project are considered to be strictly interdependent and as two different sides of the same coin. Normally, these two aspects are dealt with separately with engagement being a matter of social sciences and assessment of engineering.

These activities are expected to be completed before the end of the year.

2015 will be devoted to implementing and testing the developed methodologies in real “case studies”, in close co-operation with the TSO partners of INSPIRE-Grid.


[1] She co-authored the MIT report “Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind,” 1977, and founded the Sustainability Institute, now Donella Meadows Institute (

[2] Parkhill, K.A., Demski, C., Butler, C., Spence, A. and Pidgeon, N. (2013) “Transforming the UK Energy System: Public Values, Attitudes and Acceptability” – Synthesis Report (UKERC: London)

[3] One of the 16 international committees that carry out Cigre’s technical activities (

A-Negri-photo Antonio Negri has a Degree in Nuclear Engineering from the Politecnico of Milan in 1979. He worked at CISE and then at ENEL (Italian National Electricity Company) in the R&D Division in the field of Energy Efficiency and of Environment. From 2000 to 2005, he served as Director of the “Environmental Studies” Business Unit at CESI Spa. Since January 2006, he is Director of the “Environment & Sustainable Development” department at Research on Energy Systems – RSE. He served (2006-2012) as Chairman of the Study Committee C3 “System Environmental Performance” of CIGRE (Int. Council of Large Electric Systems,

ETH ZÜRICH , the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, is one of the world’s leading scientific and technical universities, with unparalleled physical facilities and administrative support. Among its sixteen departments, the Department of Environmental Systems Science (D-USYS) is the university’s largest, with 28 faculty chairs in the natural and social sciences, providing an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach to teaching and research on environmental issues in Europe and the world. The INSPIRE-Grid project will be based in the faculty chair for Human-Environment Systems (HES) within D-USYS. The HES group is dedicated to the research on and teaching of the interaction between social, technological, and natural systems, in the context of trying to solve major societal problems, such as climate change and the desire for energy security. The group has extensive experience in issues of European energy policy on the one hand, and processes for stakeholder engagement on the other. Along with four other faculty chairs, the HES group is a member of the Institute for Environmental Decisions, dedicated to understanding the processes and outcomes of decisions in the area of environmental policy. The HES group is also home to the Transdisciplinary Laboratory (TDlab), which for over a decade has been working throughout Europe to establish formal linkages between key stakeholders in the private, governmental, and civil societal sectors, and researchers in D-USYS. This experience will play a critical role in enhancing the stakeholder dialogue process for the INSPIRE-Grid project.

We asked the ETH researchers involved in INSPIRE-Grid three questions:

  • Why is stakeholder engagement in grid projects important and why do you think research for this topic is needed?

In a context of energy transition, new power lines are required to interconnect intermittent renewable energy sources to ensure a reliable electricity supply. However, current planning processes are often too slow and building permits are delayed. Involving stakeholders in the planning processes is seen as a way to reconcile the concerns of affected stakeholders with the aims of projects planners, to decrease opposition, diffuse conflicts, and ultimately add to the credibility and legitimation of new projects.

Power lines have different characteristics than other renewable energy infrastructures; they usually cover long stretched-out areas. Additionally, power lines affect nearby living residents, making them bear visual, economic and potential health burdens, without the feeling of being fairly compensated.

Further research is needed to find better ways to take into account the expectations and worries of affected citizens and to develop participatory practices that are considered appropriated from multiple perspectives: not only technical and economic, but also environmental and social.

  • What is working with the constellation of INSPIRE-Grid partners like and how does it affect your activities?

Working in a very diverse multi-disciplinary context like INSPIRE-Grid is very enriching, but it also entails several challenges. Having a broad variety of perspectives on participation among partners provides rich potential in carrying out our research and contributes to broader validity of our research results. However, such diversity can be problematic, especially at the beginning of a project, when partners had different logical thinking processes, working ethics and procedures. It has been challenging to combine these perspectives, but it enabled us to enjoy a powerful network of knowledge, especially through the presence of TSOs in the project. This made it possible, for example, to collect data quicker and directly, thanks to their ‘insider’ perspectives, enabling a dynamic mutual learning process.

  • What are some first insights that you have gained in the project so far and what other results can we expect from your research?

From a stakeholder engagement perspective, our preliminary results identify some blind spots of current planning processes. These shortcomings are mostly in the form of non-transparent decision-making mechanisms; it is still unclear how stakeholders’ perspectives are being weighed and taken into account. Additionally, considering the necessity of early stakeholder involvement, a transparent discussion on the needs for grids is not yet happening.

In the consequent work packages, these shortcomings will be addressed mainly through rationalization methods like multi-criteria-analyses. Additionally, possible ways for stakeholders to understand and discuss the needs for grids will be formulated to provide TSOs with appropriated tools to face future issues related to power lines within society.

The interview was conducted with Anthony Patt, Anna Scolobig and Leonhard Späth.

 Patt-photo Anthony Patt is professor of the Human-Environment Systems group at ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. His training is in public policy and he has conducted extensive research on how appropriate practices for communicating risk, uncertainty, and probabilistic information can be incorporated into policies and programs.
 Scolobig-photo Anna Scolobig is a senior researcher in the Human-Environment Systems group at ETH Zurich. Her main research interests include social dimensions of environmental change, risk communication, governance and the use of science for policy-making. She has been involved in several research projects supported by the EU Sixth and Seventh Framework Programme where she has performed extensive fieldwork on participatory processes.
 Spaeth-photo Leonhard Späth joined the Human-Environment Systems group at ETH Zürich in November 2013 as a research assistant and PhD student. He focuses on the acceptance of high-voltage power lines through stakeholder participation. He holds a master’s degree in environmental studies and sustainability science, with a master thesis focusing on citizens’ opposition to electricity-saving measures.

2. A “short introduction to research on public participation”

In the past decade, participatory processes have become increasingly important due to both a needed response to a perceived crisis of representative democracy and a new way of dealing with public distrust and opposition. Conflicts sometimes arise in the case of large infrastructure projects, including grid development and power lines. This is one of the topics INSPIRE-Grid researchers are dealing with.

In participatory processes, stakeholder groups from the public and private sector (citizens, public administrators, experts, etc.) meet to address issues of common interest. They exchange information, discuss their interests and values, as well as their views on the problems and the possible solutions. The scale of the issues ranges from national water, gene or nanotechnology policies, to localized issues such as the location of a waste repository or wind turbines, etc.

New theories and practices for participation developed in parallel in the last decades. A growing number of scholars, from political scientists to philosophers, sociologists, and policy analysts are interested in the topic and have emphasized the benefits and limits of participation. For example, increased engagement can lead to new problem-solving options, add to the credibility and legitimation of projects, institutions and policy programs, or contribute to raising public awareness and support for decisions. If properly understood and applied, participation implies more democratic decision-making processes, greater social cohesion, improved policy quality and effectiveness, and in some cases, even conflict resolution.

On the contrary, if managed improperly, participatory processes may lead to the opposite e.g. they may stabilize existing power distributions, slow decision making processes, foster conflicts and immobilize institutions. A number of methodological issues are still under debate, such as how to legitimize the processes in a broader policy arena, choose the appropriate methods and tools, communicate complex scientific information and share knowledge among different stakeholders, reach a compromise on the final decision and so on. Moreover public participation has reached (more or less successful) different results in different sectors.

In the case of power lines, the participatory aspect of planning processes is not so well developed. Enhanced participation in this field may be carried out based on experiences drawn from other more advanced fields. In sum, there are good reasons to promote participation whenever public resources and public values are at stake, yet there are also a number of pitfalls that may undermine the act of securing wide and effective participatory processes. In INSPIRE-Grid (WP3), we also deal with these issues in order to figure out how to best enhance stakeholders’ participation in the development of future grid infrastructures.

For more information about participation, see:

Arnstein, S.R., 1969. Ladder of citizen participation. Journal of the American Institute of Planners 35, 216-224.

DeMarchi, B., 2003. Public participation and risk governance. Science and Public Policy 30, 171-176.

Dryzek, J., 2001. Deliberative democracy and beyond. Oxford university press, Oxford.

Elster, J. (Ed.), 1998. Deliberative democracy. Cambridge university press, Cambridge.

Fishkin, J., Laslett, P. (Eds.), 2003. Debating deliberative democracy. Blackwell, Oxford.

Pellizzoni, L., 2013. Une idée sur le déclin? Evaluer la nouvelle critique de la délibération publique. Participations 2, 87-118.

Wynne, B., 2007. Public participation in science and technology: performing and obscuring a political-conceptual category mistake. East Asian Science Technology and Society 1, 99-110.

3. INSPIRE-Grid publications

Establishing best practices and determining a toolbox: Identification of best practices; Propositions of experimentation according to the tools or processes identified as successful by the academics or stakeholders

Next month, INSPIRE-Grid will launch its first publication, a document by ETH Zurich. It mainly describes the current state of the art participatory practices in the field of power line planning. One of the crucial issues is how to use and/or adapt innovative participatory methods to existing planning processes. This adaptation is meant to accelerate planning procedures by way of a better understanding of the different perspectives of the affected stakeholders and of the social, environmental, and economic issues at stake. Current participatory practices in other renewable-energy related fields – like wind turbines or biogas -, as well as very different fields like infrastructure development or water management, are also described in this deliverable, in order to learn useful lessons for power lines.

Additionally, current planning practices for power lines are critically reviewed, based on an extensive literature review on evaluation criteria of good outcomes and processes in participation. Checking if current planning processes for power lines complied with these criteria made it possible to shed light on several blind spots from a participative perspective. The preliminary results revealed decision-making mechanisms that are not always transparent to the stakeholders, especially the way decisions are made to build the line or not, and where. Furthermore, considering the necessary early involvement of stakeholders, the discussions of needs for grid extensions were also not sufficiently addressed in the process.

Finally, a toolbox of methods is proposed to enhance stakeholder participation for grid-related issues. This toolbox aims to provide TSOs, relevant stakeholders and affected citizens the necessary tools to improve the quality of the planning processes, potentially reducing the risk of having the processes slowed down or even blocked by stakeholders.

4. What else is happening regarding grid development and stakeholder engagement

Besides INSPIRE-Grid, many other (research) projects focus on electricity grids and/or their public acceptability right now. We have compiled a selection of interesting links:

  • BESTGRID: With nine partners, comprised of European non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and transmission system operators (TSOs) and a research institute, the EU-funded BESTGRID project works towards modernising and expanding the current European electricity grid for the integration of a growing share of electricity from renewable sources.
  • Grid infrastructure communications toolkit: website from the European Commission that features essential elements for successful, inclusive project communication and a constructive multi-stakeholder dialogue at the local level of any power grid development project in Europe.
  • Qualification of the assessment of alternatives as means of accelerating the planning and enhancing the acceptance of electricity grids: One of the core elements or grid planning is the assessment of alternatives, which helps in realising the optimal solution. Conflicts regarding health, landscape, nature conservation, property, and usage are being identified and compared. Objective of the project is to develop technical, methodological, and procedural guidance for the implementation of the assessment of alternatives.
  • Accompanying research regarding current issues of the acceptability of grid development in Germany: With the help of a comprehensive and systematic approach, different factors for the acceptability of grid development will be identified and compared. Based on scientific results, practical recommendations will be derived for forthcoming questions of grid development, such as planning procedures and communication strategies.
  • Transparent electricity grids – enhancing transparency of the need for new electricity grids: The project aims at contributing to the comprehensibility of grid modeling exercises for societal stakeholders that participate in the political discourse.
  • ELECTRA (European Liaison on Electricity grid Committed Towards long-term Research Activities for Smart Grids): The whole-sale deployment of Renewable Energy Resources connected to the network at all voltage levels will require radically new approaches for real time control that can accommodate the coordinated operation of millions of devices, of various technologies, at many different scales and voltage levels, dispersed across EU grid. ELECTRA addresses this challenge, and will establish and validate proofs of concept that utilise flexibility from across traditional boundaries in a holistic fashion.
  • GRID+ (Supporting the Development of the European Electricity Grids Initiative (EEGI)): GRID+ is a Coordination and Support Action which has been created for providing operational support for the development of the European Electricity Grids Initiative (EEGI) . The EEGI is one of the European Industrial Initiatives under the Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan) which proposes a 9-year European research, development, and demonstration programme to accelerate innovation and the development of the electricity networks of the future in Europe.

Good Practice Award initiated by RGI

The Renewables-Grid-Initiative, together with a jury of outstanding experts in the field of energy and environmental protection, will award a prize for the “Good Practice of the Year” for the first time. This award is meant to honour an outstanding practice in grid development, one that is innovative and most importantly, an improvement to existing practices in the field – be it environmental protection, stakeholder participation or one of the many other fields surrounding grid development today.

European and non European TSOs, DSOs, project developers, authorities and NGOs engaged in grid projects are invited to enter their good practices into the competition by mid-October. You can find more information and the application documents on RGI’s website:

5. Event announcements

BESTGRID Workshop: Innovation through Collaboration

How can we agree on the dimensions of the future electricity grid? Where do we want to build new power lines? How can we assure that local impacts and concerns are fully understood and – if necessary – compensated in the best possible way? All these questions cannot be answered by one single actor. On the contrary, we need procedures, formats and tools that allow for closer collaboration and joint solutions of different groups of society. The 2nd BESTGRID workshop on 23 October investigates how to design better projects by actively collaborating. The consortium would like to share some of the lessons learned from almost 20 months of collaboration and at the same time look for lively discussions based on your experiences and insights beyond the realms of the project. More information here:

INSPIRE-Grid project workshop: Stakeholders’ concerns and needs

What are the best ways of increasing stakeholders’ involvement in grid expansion projects? How can we better understand the diverse concerns and perspectives of different stakeholder groups? What are the best methods to identify regional and other differences in the perception of grid related issues? These are just some of the questions that will be discussed at the first INSPIRE-Grid workshop that will be held in Berlin on the 29th of October.
Representatives from authorities, academia, civil society and transmission system operators will come together to find out about first results of the INSPIRE-Grid project and engage in discussions about tested as well as new participation strategies including relevant communication processes and methods of involvement. In this context, issues that can often trigger stakeholders’ concerns, such as health impacts, changes in landscape or effects on property values, will also be reviewed.
If you wish to join and contribute to the workshop, registration is still open until the 27th of October (please send an email to We look forward to welcoming you in Berlin!

About INSPIRE-Grid

INSPIRE-Grid is an EU-funded research project that stands for “Improved and eNhanced Stakeholders Participation In Reinforcement of Electricity Grid.”With ten partners from six different countries, INSPIRE-Grid aims to increase stakeholder engagement in grid expansion projects, better manage conflicts, and speed up the permitting process. By way of an interdisciplinary approach, INSPIRE-Grid will develop stakeholder-led processes and design an expert-led European good practice guide. Methods to facilitate decision-making will be newly combined with engagement tools and tested with stakeholders from existing or concluded grid development project case studies.

INSPIRE-Grid partners: research institutes (Ricerca sul Sistema Energetico – RSE SpA (coordinator), Association pour la recherché et le developpement des methods et processus industriels – ARMINES, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich – ETHZ, Institut für ZukunftsEnergieSysteme – IZES, Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung – PIK, Poliedra Centri di Conoscenza e Formazione del Politecnico di Milano – Poliedra), transmission system operators (National Grid, RTE, Statnett), and the stakeholder platform Renewables-Grid-Initiative – RGI.


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