People Power: The role of civil society in renewable energy production


The engagement of civil society actors in energy generation can be defined by the term community energy. Community energy initiatives have increased in several countries.

This thesis aims at better understanding how this phenomenon emerges and how it can contribute to the decarbonization of our economy. For this purpose, a multi-level perspective on socio-technical transitions and strategic niche management theory were employed as theoretical lenses. The research material consisted of 75 qualitative interviews, a survey of 26 distributed energy experts, and a panel data study of 66 large electric utilities from various countries. Thematic, narrative, regression and descriptive statistical analysis were utilized to analyse the data collected.

The main findings showed that four main development patterns are triggering the rise of community energy projects. They are: (a) the characteristics of individuals, (b) social needs, (c) economic factors and (d) policy factors. The type of drivers behind community energy development is linked to the possibilities for scaling up the sector. Along with the drivers, some barriers were also identified. These included the resistance of incumbent regime actors to renewable energy diffusion, regulation and, in a few cases, technology performance. Regression analysis and the Granger test for causality showed that this resistance of incumbent energy firms was due to the negative correlation between an increase in renewable energy production and firms’ long-term financial performance.

The thesis concluded that community energy could have an important role to play in the ongoing energy transition. Its impact, however, is contingent on the degree of internal niche development and on the ways the community energy niche will engage with important regime actors such as energy companies, governments, and network operators.

This work contributed to better understanding the factors influencing the development of socio-technical niches in the case of non-market driven innovation and the reasons that lead to the locking-up of energy regimes. In the future, researchers should make further attempts to uncover the ways in which regimes can be unlocked and social innovation for sustainability diffused.

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