Energy citizenship is crucial for the energy transition because it places citizens at the forefront of sustainable energy initiatives. It fosters active participation, trust, and engagement, enabling a more inclusive and effective transition to cleaner and more sustainable energy sources. Energy citizenship emphasises citizen involvement in energy transition processes, enabled by legal, regulatory, and institutional frameworks. This blog article summarises key research from the DIALOGUES project in the eight project countries related to the contextualisation of energy citizenship, factors of influence and their potential policy implications for EU energy and climate policy.
What is energy citizenship?
Energy citizenship is a complex and dynamic social, political and economic phenomenon which reflects the understanding that citizens ought to be at the centre of the energy transition. The operationalisation and uptake of the notion of energy citizenship has the potential to enable citizens to be actively involved in energy transition processes.
What factors play a key role?
The lack of specific and concrete legal provisions and regulatory mechanisms regarding the establishment and operation of collective citizen-driven initiatives, including energy communities and energy cooperatives. Administrative hurdles clearly emerge as a factor which hinders citizen participation in the energy market and the energy transition.
Findings of a DIALOGUES study on energy citizenship initiatives shows that the energy sector is overwhelmingly male-dominated (Shejale et al., 2022). Our research shows that explicit gender mainstreaming in energy law is present only in Austria. In the rest of the studied countries explicit gender mainstreaming in energy law is yet to be implemented. Addressing gender mainstreaming can play a crucial role in sustaining gender equality when it comes to participation in the energy transition initiatives such as energy communities.
Institutional and political support for RES deployment, political will to encourage citizen participation in the energy transition, political understanding of the key aspects and requirements of the energy transition and public awareness about the energy transition and RES are some of the most important factors influencing the emergence and development of energy citizenship. They in turn affect citizens’ political stance, trust in state institutions and EU institutions, in some cases leading to extreme Euroscepticism. In order to address the complex socio-political factors impeding energy citizenship, both decision-makers and law-makers need to move away from a principally consumerist framing of energy citizenship and towards a more multifaceted conceptualisation of energy citizens.
Socio-economic status, in particular income and education, appears to considerably affect the forms of citizen engagement, which in turn influences the external manifestation of energy citizenship. In most cases energy citizenship initiatives require the payment of a membership fee, which obstructs the participation of low-income individuals and groups (Shejale et al, 2022; Rodríguez-Chávez et al., 2022). Unequal opportunities for education and lack of easy-to-understand information are also key barriers for energy citizenship that can be addressed by specific regulatory and participatory measures.
Among the main socio-cultural elements influencing the emergence and exercise of energy citizenship by protected groups are social norms, social marginalisation, and cultural and linguistic differences. DIALOGUES research on energy justice has shown that social groups which have been historically marginalised and/or excluded are underrepresented in present-day energy transitions.
There is a plethora of factors influencing energy citizenship. The way forward would be to take a holistic and integrated approach to a citizen-driven energy system that would require the creation of more participatory, inclusive and holistic decision-making structures and processes. Policy stakeholders need to put in place mechanisms of inclusion which allow various groups and communities to participate in energy transition processes. With enabling institutional and policy frameworks in place, energy citizenship has the potential to become a pathway to overcoming vulnerabilities, strengthening social justice, fostering citizen participation and enhancing democracies.
Remina Aleksieva, Analyst, Energy and Climate Program, Center for the Study of Democracy
Victoria Bogdanova, Analyst, Sociological Program, Center for the Study of Democracy