14. September 2022Understanding the social aspects of transition: ENTRANCES case study report Rhineland

One of CINTRAN’s sister projects, ENTRANCES, is currently developing 13 regional case studies on European coal and carbon-intensive regions in transition. This blog is providing a preview of the case study report dedicated to the Rhineland, which is the biggest lignite coal region in Europe in terms of annual production. The underlying report was developed by the Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH) and will be published in October 2022.

Frechen-Grube Carl, former coke factory by A.Savin, WikiCommons

All ENTRANCES case studies were based on applying the same Multidimensional Analytical Framework (MAF) developed within the project to grasp the multi-faceted aspects of the de/re-territorialisation processes ongoing in the regions. The multidimensional analytical framework comprises a socio-economic, socio-cultural, socio-psychological, socio-political and socio-ecological component of the clean energy transition. Different methodological approaches are adopted for each of those components.

For the socio-cultural component, stress strains are identified with the help of focus groups. A survey conducted for the socio-psychological component analysed place attachment and the general perception of the clean energy transition in the region. The socio-economic component analyses the development of important socio-economic indicators in the past. Further, text analyses for the socio-political component identify different narratives and conflicts associated with the coal phase-out in the area. Eventually, the socio-ecological component relies on interviews to determine the transformative capacity of the region.


ENTRANCES (ENergy TRANsitions from Coal and carbon: Effects on Societies) is a three-year project funded by the European Union‘s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. It addresses the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) aspects of clean energy. ENTRANCES is coordinated by the University of A Coruña and is conducted by a consortium of 14 European partners, including universities, research institutes, networks and umbrella organisations. ENTRANCES‘ overall goals are developing a theoretically-based and empirically-grounded understanding of cross-cutting issues related to the social aspects of the clean energy transition in European coal and carbon-intensive regions and formulating a set of recommendations to tackle these issues. For more information, please go to https://entrancesproject.eu/


As a high-performance industrial and science region, the Rhenish mining area is facing major challenges in the structural transformation against the backdrop of climate change and the energy transition. The Rhineland refers to an area in Western Germany which is located in North Rhine-Westphalia in the city triangle between Cologne, Aachen and Düsseldorf. In the Rhenish coalfield, lignite is extracted and used for energy production. Rhineland is the largest lignite coal region in Germany. It accounts for about 50 % of the total extraction of lignite and also 48 % of employment in the lignite industry in Germany. However, the extraction and conversion of lignite into electricity will end in 2038 at the latest based on the closure list provided in the Coal Phase-out Act in 2020 in accordance with the recommendations of the Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment.

Through its rich coal deposits, the Rhineland has economically always been interesting for mining and quarrying. This poses challenges to a region that historically and culturally puts a strong focus on those industries when deposits are exhausted or political and societal change demands for restructuring.

According to the results of the socio-cultural component, major issues are the relative scarcity of land and water. While the former reflects the competition between mining, commercial development projects, agriculture and suburbanisation, the latter occurs due to global warming, as well as mining interventions and recultivation. Furthermore, a polarisation of political culture with environmental protests and reactions by the state is observable, in addition to a critical view of the gap between energy policy aims and their implementation, in particular the slow development of renewable energy projects in the region. Finally, youth outmigration is observed in the region as a consequence of increasing educational opportunities outside the region. Overall, the region aims to remain an innovative centre of business and industry while being well-prepared to translate the EU Green Deal into specific projects and contribute to climate protection on a global scale.

The socio-psychological component analyses how populations affected by the structural transformation of their region perceive the entire process. We find that the factors of Place Rootedness and Life Satisfaction are remarkably high in Rhineland. At the same time, respondents perceive low economic hardship and they perceive the overall decarbonisation process as being quite fair. A hypothesis could be that national redistribution policies have contributed to the perception of low economic hardship and intermediate perception of fairness.

Although labour productivity in Rhineland is higher compared to the national average, regional GDP growth is similar to the German growth rate. A key driver in the region is migration which counteracts the natural population trend. The main socio-economic consequences are more likely to be the result of the transformation in the energy-intensive manufacturing industry rather than in the mining and utility industry itself. The sectoral structure of future gross value added is partly determined on the educational composition of the young generation.

After the German Coal Phase-out Act had been passed, the public discourse switched from the feasibility of a coal phase-out to the appropriate speed of the coal phase-out. The political landscape reflects this switch. The federal government and the federal states’ governments are the defining constituencies imposing the coal phase-out in the region. The coalition agreement of the federal government in Germany envisions a coal phase-out ideally by 2030.

Currently, two main conflicts prevail—first, the speed of the coal phase-out and second, how the transition funds are used. The four narratives about the necessary structural change due to the coal phase-out are a consequence of the two conflicts. The first narrative describes the structural change as an opportunity to reinvent the region. The second narrative shows that money alone is not enough to make the upcoming structural change a success.

The third narrative covers the speed of the phase-out, indicating that a faster coal phase-out is necessary to meet climate policy targets. Finally, the fourth narrative reveals the indispensability of coal, i.e. to slow down or stop the phase-out of coal. Interestingly, compared to the other German lignite regions, the public discourse in Rhineland is focused more on preserving nature and villages. The energy transition in Rhineland is ongoing, but accelerating the coal phase-out by rescheduling it from 2038 to 2030 for example was seen as a breach of word to a certain extent.

An assessment of the transformative capacity of the region is rated by the interviewed stakeholders as slightly above intermediate. The socio-ecological and -technical component shows that stakeholders from different sectors perceive the transformative capacity differently. Public sector stakeholders, for instance, consider the levels of actors’ diversity and diverse governance in the region as high, while representatives from non-profit organisations perceive the level of experimentation as rather intermediate.

The clean-energy transition in Rhineland faces significant challenges. The upcoming structural change and the development of new energy and mobility strategies depict the most important challenge. The extent of climate change and climate mitigation policies even foster the speed of the coal phase out and the associated structural change. However, the most recent energy crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine can even cause a faster clean-energy transition or delay.

Further information:

Walter Bartl, Katja Heinisch, Oliver Holtemöller, Christoph Schult (in print). ENTRANCES case study report Rhineland. The full report will be published in October 2022. For more information, please email to katja.heinisch@iwh-halle.de




© The blog text is licenced under CC BY. Figures are excluded from this license.


Walter Bartl, Katja Heinisch, Oliver Holtemöller, Christoph Schult

Halle Institute for Economic Research



Christof Arens

Senior Researcher | Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy
Energy, Transport, and Climate Policy Division


The CINTRAN project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 884539. The sole responsibility for the content of this website lies with the authors and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of CINEA or other EU agencies or bodies.