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The role of energy democracy and energy citizenship for participatory energy transitions

Model explaining energy citizenship. Illustration.

In a new article Madeleine Wahlund and Jenny Palm have reviewed earlier research on citizen participation and energy citizenship. The concepts are tightly connected to the debate on energy transition, and the need for a decentralized energy system, based on renewable energy and increased local energy ownership. The two concepts exist in parallel and are sometimes used as synonyms and sometimes with clear distinctions made between them. The aim of the paper is to identify similarities and differences between the two concepts and synthesise their contributions to debates on citizen participation in energy transitions.

The results show that research on energy citizenship tends to emphasise behaviour change and ways for individuals to participate in energy systems, thereby often focusing on individuals as agents of change. In contrast, research on energy democracy tends to focus on institutionalisation of new forms of participative governance and often placing collectives as central agents of change. Both these strands of research have contributed to a new conceptualization of what citizenship and democracy mean in the context of energy transitions, which has been of outmost important for the debate. The review also highlights some weaknesses of the literature: a bias towards decentralised energy systems, a lack of attention to representational democracy, and an underrepresentation of studies from outside Europe and North America.

The figure summarises the findings. In the middle the commonalities between both strands of research are shown, where both for example discuss the roles of social movements, the importance of material forms of participation, inclusive decision-making processes and formal participatory processes to influence policy. In the outer ring is the differences between the concepts described, where the main difference is related to questions of structural change versus individual agency in the energy transition.

Wahlund, M & Palm, J (2022) The role of energy democracy and energy citizenship for participatory energy transitions: A comprehensive review, Energy Research and Social Science, 87, Volume 87,102482