The existential threat of climate change requires the shift between energy systems, from fossil to renewables, or from high to low energy usage and active participation of citizens in the energy transition. The active role of citizens in the energy transition is related to the concept of energy citizenship. The concept is central in providing a framework for the actors involved in the profound, systematic transformation of the energy sector. It indicates citizens’ active and responsible participation through individual and collective actions in developing technologies, solutions, facilities, entrepreneurial ventures, and projects aimed at expanding energy access.
Therefore, energy citizenship advocates a fundamental shift from centrally managed energy infrastructure and facilities toward a more decentralised and diversified energy generation model. Hence, energy citizenship links to advancements in technological solutions and continuing societal changes, including citizens’ everyday practices and values.
According to the state-of-the-art literature conducted for DIALOGUES, energy citizenship is an inclusive concept associated with several different spheres that share common characteristics, such as ecological citizenship, environmental citizenship, civil citizenship, political and social citizenship, and sustainability citizenship. Moreover, it is related to multiple disciplines of study and practice: economics, psychology, sociology, transportation research, urban design, health, and systems planning. Accordingly, each domain approaches energy citizenship from a particular angle. For instance,
Furthermore, the literature stresses that energy citizenship is influenced by individual, social, community, local, national and transnational level variables. In other words, the concept evolves due to internal and external factors, making it essential to find ways of sustaining engagement.
There is no consensus on the definition of energy citizenship in the literature within a generally accepted and consolidated framework. This, in turn, results in certain disablers against establishing a common ground for relevant research activities in this field. Hence, it is crucial to frame the concept of energy citizenship and provide alternative definitions to reach a consensus.
The state-of-the-art literature review conducted for DIALOGUES conceptualises “Energy Citizenship”. One of the most prevalent approaches to defining energy citizenship is the active involvement and democratic engagement of individuals and communities within the energy systems to meet decarbonisation targets for sustainable energy transitions. Engagement is mainly observed at two particular levels: the individual level, where the citizen focuses on energy efficiency in the household or workplace, and the political level, where the citizen engages in local, national, or international activities related to climate policies. In this regard, engagement and participation in the energy systems require collaboration between citizens, civil society, and the local authorities. According to this perspective, energy citizenship is a collective political engagement in energy consciousness, literacy, behaviour and practices.
Some scholars define energy citizenship from another perspective. They consider energy communities, which allow citizens to participate in the clean energy transition with the right to engage in “producing, consuming and sharing energy as active participants in the energy market”. In this context, there are hybrid relationships between people, energy technologies and the different roles people can take, such as “users, consumers, protesters, supporters and prosumers”. It brings a more ambitious approach to energy citizenship, allowing citizens to become “co-producers, co-investors and therefore co-owners of energy systems”. In this sense, energy citizens are the prosumers who produce energy, ensure supply-demand side flexibility, or store energy in times of oversupply. Such an active role of citizens, not only as consumers but also as agents that shape energy policies, is regarded as an alternative way of representing the public as “energy citizens”, who have the potential for action with equitable rights and responsibilities.
In addition to defining energy citizenship through individual participation and engagement, several scholars define the term through collective energy actions and collective awareness. This perspective mainly stems from the assumption that the energy transition might be achieved through the collective awareness of responsibility for climate change and the potential for (collective) energy actions, such as establishing community renewable energy projects. Participation of energy citizens in collective energy actions may be realised in social and political ways. One political approach to engaging in collective actions is participating in protests and movements, namely political and civic activities on energy issues. Considering the social and environmental responsibilities, some scholars believe energy citizenship is a part of ecological citizenship, referring mainly to the responsibilities of ecologically aware individuals who can make conscious energy behaviour choices for an environmentally-friendly future. Collectives’ social and environmental responsibilities for a green future are also about climate citizenship. Individuals become community members, and their commitment contributes to ecological protection using their rights, entitlements, and obligations.
Inclusivity in the energy system is a crucial aspect of energy citizenship. To this end, many scholars define energy citizenship with a focus on social acceptance in energy decision-making. Accordingly, incorporating the gender perspective, energy citizenship could be described as gender-equal participation in decision-making processes, integrating the interests of different genders into the policy design. However, diversity reaches beyond gender-related issues to the intersectionality between gender and other sensitive topics such as race, age, minority status, socio-economic status, or vulnerable groups. For instance, an alternative definition of energy citizenship addresses poverty, since energy citizenship is undermined by the inability to adequately heat, cool, or provide other required energy services to homes. In addition, energy citizenship is also associated with energy justice. Such association is built based on the energy justice framework’s distributional, procedural, and recognition pillars, since citizenship implies equal and just access to the resources without discrimination.
The conceptualisation of energy citizenship is significant due to the urgency of the energy transition, and to prevent the destruction of the natural base of human life on the planet through climate change. Considering this urgency and the state-of-art literature review, DIALOGUES defines energy citizenship as “the degree to which, and the ways in which, the goals of a sustainable energy transition enter into the everyday practices of an individual”. In this sense, energy transition emerges as one of the critical areas for citizens to demonstrate their participation. Furthermore, the inter-and transdisciplinary conceptualisation of energy citizenship confirms individual citizens’ “bottom-up” power as key actors for a successful energy transition.
References: DIALOGUES Integrated Research White Paper – Version 1 (Access document) Mehmet Efe Biresselioglu (IUE), Muhittin Hakan Demir (IUE), Berfu Solak (IUE), et al. (2021) Comprehensive, interdisciplinary report on energy citizenship (Access document) Mehmet Efe Biresselioglu (IUE), Muhittin Hakan Demir (IUE), Berfu Solak (IUE), et al. (2021)
Author: Mehmet Efe Biresselioglu (Izmir University of Economics – IUE)
Mehmet Efe Biresselioglu
Izmir University of Economics – IUE