Energy Transition, a participation strategy in Vienna

Dive into our work with the Energy Department of the City of Vienna, and draw inspiration from our findings, approach, and the questions we faced.

The energy transition - i.e. the change to decarbonized heating and cooling systems and the necessary renovation and retrofit for the new systems - is one of the major challenges our cities are facing. In Vienna, 30% of CO2 emissions derive from the building sector - and 90% of them only due to gas heating. Other cities face similar challenges making the energy transition a crucial lever that needs to be tackled to decarbonize cities.

Between 2021 and 2022, Demsoc worked with the Energy department of the City of Vienna to look at the participation aspect of the energy transition.

What that means is first creating conditions under which citizens can support the energy transition, but it also involves the development of new methods and concepts that recognize citizens as active agents of the energy transition.


From our research, three key findings relevant for cities tackling the energy transition emerge:

1. Framework conditions
  • Long-term, political framework conditions and a cross-departmental implementation strategy in cities are needed.
  • Legal regulations must be reviewed and adapted to the energy transition to enable a social just transition. In Vienna those are in particular contract and price transparency, as well as rights and responsibilities of tenants and owners.
  • Ensuring affordability is crucial. In Vienna, financing is particularly relevant in three cases,1) the overall building renovation; 2) the housing unit (including possible appliance replacement); and 3) the (possibly higher) energy costs.
  • Cities should actively promote self-organisation and management of citizens (such as energy communities) as well as innovative solutions for financial support for the transition. This increases motivation and at the same time reduces barriers for relevant stakeholders to be first-movers.
2. Independent consultation & communication strategy
  • There is a need to ensure accessible and independent information on quality retrofit/technical partners, calculation of cost savings, rights and responsibilities of (rental) tenants.
  • This information could be provided by an independent consultancy service on retrofit. Sufficient resources and personnel for this service need to be established.
  • Communication and mobilization through narratives can be very powerful. These can include tangible images of the future through local, green, secure jobs; future post-covid; independence from gas and oil.
  • Identifying ownership structures and using targeted communication to owners and tenants. In Vienna, there is a big potential to work together with privately owned houses, industrial building sites.
3. Participatory methods for energy transitions
  • In Vienna, as in many other cities, there is little to no available methods for participation in the energy transition.
  • Already existing methods from other areas, such as participation in the public space, can be adapted to the context of housing and energy.
  • Incentives for retrofit can be combined with enhanced sense of community and responsibility of citizens.

Open questions - and how they could be answered

How can the necessary infrastructure development in the energy transition be used as a window of opportunity to shape the public space and to advance retrofit and energy switch of the existing building stock?

Democratic Society developed a thought experiment, the future street, to answer this question. It is a thought experiment, because yet needs to be adapted to the local context of a street. The future street describes a process in which the energy carrier change and necessary infrastructure development in a street can be built upon a participatory process that gives homeowners, tenants and residents a voice in shaping their living environment. At the same time the process creates room for discussion and incentives for renters and homeowners to retrofit their houses and connect them to the new energy system.

How can the City of Vienna support people and companies in phasing out old technologies and at the same time mobilize skilled workers?

A climate alliance can be established with the focus on local, green, secure jobs. Partners can be the city and professions that will no longer be needed in a decarbonised future, or that will need to change. Aim is to explore what training, retraining or other resources are needed to support workers and companies in the transition. As many of these professionals have direct contact to tenants, they are important multipliers for the energy transition.

Who should act as implementers in the energy market of the future? How can a city promote decentralization and become an enabler?

To answer this question, a space for exchange and learning with existing energy communities and urban commons can be created with the goal to find out through which measures the city can actively support participation, ownership, self-management and new economies. The Communities of Practice method can provide a framework to facilitate exchange at eye level.

How do we ensure that the Viennese energy transition is affordable for people? Who benefits from the measures and who does not? Who can participate and who cannot?

The energy transition can be used as a lever to combine climate and social policy. It can be the starting point to explore how energy transition can be socially just and affordable for everyone, how people with low-income can be supported - but also how they can be active agents who participate in and benefit from the climate-friendly future.


We collected data through secondary research and 10 expert interviews between March 2021 and February 2022. Interview partners were selected following an actor mapping exercise, as well as close consultation with the client. Interview partners were coming from the following fields: (municipal) property management, non-profit building associations, retrofitting consultancy, social and independent organizations, labor right advocacies.

The analysis was carried out along a thematic analysis. Subsequently, the results were co-validated in two workshops together with the clients and the experts.

The findings include not only research findings, but also further questions and ideas of how they can be approached. Democratic Society was commissioned for our expertise and experience in the field of participation. Thus, the recommendations that follow are shaped by our perspective and experience.

Limitations - Not all sectors could be covered in our expert interviews, e.g. it was not possible to speak directly with residents. To include this knowledge, we used existing research and studies. It was not possible to distinguish between building types and tenant structures (owner-occupied homes, apartment buildings, cooperatives etc.)

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