Sub-theme 1. Our common SDGs?
Energy as a commons
Human societies heavily rely on fossil fuels for their primary energy supply, posing major threats to their very survival. Historically, the rise of fossil fuels coincided with the development of a highly centralized socio-technical configuration, with hardly any community involvement in energy production. To provide a sound foundation for the transition towards sustainable energy systems, the mere replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energies led by market forces will likely not be sufficient and that the very nature of energy as a pure private good has to be contested. This panel proposes a reconceptualization of energy as a common good, a necessary narrative for the redesign of the dominant energy system that merely sees energy as a tradable commodity. The panel convenes contributions that apply the idea of the commons to energy, deconstructing it as a private good and reconstructing it as a commons that can be better produced and distributed by a hybrid, tri-centric governance system involving collective actions initiated by communities, public regulations and market rules. It also welcomes contributions that illustrate how the development of community-based energy initiatives and renewable energy cooperatives in many parts of the world prefigure a just, green and democratically managed transition towards the energy commons.
Panel 1.5. A
1. Energy security and Multilateralism: Implications for African Climate justice, food security and human security
University of Nairobi, Kenya
The energy sector is a strong enabler to sustainable development. The demand for sustainable energy and food security, amidst climate extremes is a driver to many strategic international alliances for industrialised and developing countries alike. Conversely, incompetent institutions handling energy resources, characterized by opaque stakeholder engagement jeopardises sustainable development. The anomaly is responsible for many conflicts within and between countries not only in Africa, but globally. Energy poverty in Africa is a signal for a struggling system, beckoning fundamental reforms that would not only support climate justice and food security, but also ensure sustainable peace and human security. This article bridges some of the knowledge gaps in the pathway taken by Africa in tackling rising fuel costs alongside food insecurity, climate extremes, climate change-induced conflicts as well as other energy system transitions. The aim is to highlight the potential of Africa in intercepting the 21st century triple challenges of climate justice, energy security and food security; and emphasise the urgency for new policies and actions toward clean, sustainable and affordable energy in Africa. This is a review paper where secondary data sources have been used to guide the discussions. Discussions are based on the relationship between energy security, food security, and climate justice and their implications for peace and human security. Conclusions underscore the importance of adopting a different development pathway for Africa that would focus on clean and sustainable energy, and address human and resource-based conflicts, while leveraging on multilateralism for sustainable energy, food and human security.
2. Centering community needs and local governance: An integrated approach to decentralized electrification in East Africa
1University of Washington, USA, 2Dartmouth College, USA, 3University of Minnesota, USA,
Distributed and decentralized solutions for rural electrification are gaining traction in rural electrification planning efforts internationally. Countries are now designating regions to be solely electrified with decentralized options, such as mini-grids and standalone solar home systems. Yet, at the same time, decentralized electrification with alternative systems, such as mini-grids, faces high costs associated with inaccurate estimations of demand and system sizing and challenges supporting local economic activities (e.g., productive agricultural or other business uses). Furthermore, the social outcomes of decentralization are varied. We propose an interdisciplinary model of rural electrification in East Africa that promotes community voice, leadership, and local benefits, given a changing, more decentralized technology landscape. Our model integrates four critical dimensions: governance and ownership; community-based demand estimation and growth; accessible finance and responsive regulatory policy; and integrated assessments across health, environment, social, and economic dimensions. We present this framework and our preliminary work translating this framework into practice by testing (1) the forms of participatory engagement that reflect individual and community needs more meaningfully (e.g., community asset mapping, photovoice) and (2) the forms of governance that assert community voices not only in rural electrification planning but in ongoing ownership and operations of emerging grid and off-grid configurations (e.g., community ownership structures and democratic governance across the energy value chain). This is a collaborative project with a growing team of scholars and practitioners, and this abstract reflects ongoing collective work.
3. Promoting the Commons Energy fix: (Re)politicizing Collective Energy Initiatives in southern Europe
Università degli Studi di Torino, Italy
Under the Green Growth rhetoric, new forms of decentralized energy communities have proliferated. Although from a theoretical and empirical standpoint, Renewable Energy Communities have demonstrated several socio-environmental benefits, this bottom-up energy transition process is increasingly threatened by the expansion of financial capital, able to impose a technocratic and dirigiste turn and, in the meantime, sterilize and fragmentized the social requests for more socio-ecological sustainability and justice. In this way, a predominant focus on decarbonization and economic aspects could miss other critical socio-environmental problems and energy justice concerns. Through the review of several articles and political documents, the research will explore the growing energy transition appropriation by the neoliberal apparatus and the related creation of green economy entrepreneurs during the post-crisis period, with a particular focus on the Italian and Greek cases. To challenge this growing menace, it would be necessary to provide new ontologies as well as new trajectories to (re)politicize the energy transition. From reviewing the literature on the commons, drawing particularly on Harvey and De Angelis, we will analyze to what extent collective energy initiatives are proposing alternative values and practices to fossil capitalism, and some pathways towards new post-growth scenarios will be proposed. Lastly, reasoning through the Bioeconomics theory of Georgescu-Roegen, this article will question the role of endosomatic energy in defying and enabling the energy commons and the role of labour in reducing the excessive Technosphere influence as the overall commodification of eco-systems through greater social control over the whole production and consumption cycle.
4. Wind Resources as Commons: Exploring Existing and Alternative Wind Rights Configurations
Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands
The ‘second phase’ of the energy transition involves large-scale rollout of renewables, raising wider questions about arrangements for the management and ownership of such resources and how costs and benefits should be distributed. However, until now, ownership and control of the key biophysical resources (e.g., wind, wave, solar, geothermal) underpinning the transition have received surprisingly little attention. This paper explores this issue using the idea of ‘wind rights’, which highlights the numerous social actors who have rights or claims to use and benefit from wind resources. Key among these are landowners who are silently enclosing the ‘windy commons’ to extract ‘wind rents’ from monopoly property rights. This has profound (but undertheorised) distributive and structural ramifications for the energy transition. Despite this, and with some recent notable exceptions, much energy transition research in social science portrays landowners as taken-for-granted, apolitical, and sometimes marginal (ised) stakeholders. Combining a Marxist, class-based approach to landownership and wind rent with Ostromian institutional analysis, this paper reviews and expands the (predominantly legal) literature on wind rights. This deepens the understanding of the concept of ‘wind rights’, highlighting that in many instances wind resources are de facto privatised/enclosed via ‘proxy wind rights’ for landowners. We also indicate some alternative wind rights configurations, including nationally and commonly managed wind resources. This analysis leads to a consideration of the potential long-term benefits of alternative socially orientated property rights arrangements, including community wind rights or nationalisation of the wind resource.
5. Social learning and co-production of small-scale solar energy in a densely populated city: the case of solar energy cooperatives in Taiwan
The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China
The promotion of renewable energy accessible to urban residents is an important effort to mitigate climate change given the high electricity consumption in cities. With new technologies for the easier access to the electricity grid and the governmental legal and financial support in the form of feed-in tariff, the landscape of the electricity sector has changed with higher diversity of participants. The infrastructural and interdependent natures of an urban electricity network require a set of multi-level institutions to facilitate the co-production of renewable energy between government regulators, commercial corporations, and urban residents. Nevertheless, participation of urban residents can be hindered by many urban conditions such as high mobility of residents and fragmented property rights to shared spaces. Their sustainable participation thus warrants investigation and explanation. Based on a comparative case study of two solar energy cooperatives with different socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds in a densely populated city in Taiwan, this paper explores how local actors are mobilized to produce small-scale solar energy with urban commoning. It pays particular attention to the role of social learning among members of urban commoning, and the favourable conditions conductive to sustaining it. It argues that urban commoning not only requires the support by the state, but it also relies on the presence of public entrepreneurship and the ideational change of urban residents with social learning to treat solar energy production as activities of common benefits in order to make it more resilient to the neoliberal economic order urban residents are situated in.
Panel 1.5. B
1. The emergence of renewable energy cooperatives: effects of social capital in Dutch municipalities
1Rotterdam School of Management, the Netherlands, 2Utrecht University, the Netherlands
In studying technological development, geography of innovation often attributes a central role to firms. However, addressing the grand societal challenges of today involves not only technological innovation by firms but also large-scale adoption of sustainable technologies by users. Especially in the process of local market formation for sustainable technologies, technology users can play a pivotal role. Nevertheless, the role of users has only received scant attention in the study of spatial differences in technological development. As a prominent example of user involvement in local market formation, we analyze the spatial patterns of the founding of renewable energy (RE) cooperatives in the Netherlands on the municipal level. We study the importance of social capital at the municipal level. Indeed, social innovations, such as RE cooperatives, are argued to often co-occur with increased local social cohesion. We specifically look at three types of network indicators of social capital (i.e. network closure, bridging and bonding). The paper contributes to the study of regional development in three different ways. First, we explore how the founding of RE cooperatives is affected by structural and network social capital, which is a dimension of social capital underlying many of the indicators of social capital explored in previous research. Second, by looking at cooperatives as drivers of change, we go beyond the firm-focus often encountered in geography of innovation. Finally, in exploring local factors fostering the emergence of RE cooperatives, we focus on a more localized municipal level compared to previous studies, which seems to better correspond to the local embeddedness often ascribed to these cooperatives.
2. Ecological motives trump financial and social considerations for prosumerism: investigating motives in citizen energy cooperatives using revealed preferences and self-reported data
Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
With growing interest in renewable energy but markets lagging behind in providing it, energy cooperatives in Europe have started to develop rapidly. The self-organising prosumer is gaining importance: consumers take on the role of both consumer and producer by setting-up and joining electricity cooperatives as investors, shareholders and clients. As is the case with other organisations that identify themselves as “commons”, there are tensions and trade-offs between social, ecological and financial goals. Especially with increasing pressure from the energy-market, it is not evident how cooperatives can retain their ideological identity. To navigate these tensions and to work towards becoming a resilient institution, it is important that cooperatives preserve their support base: their members, who are both clients and shareholders. Based on insights from socio-psychological, environmental and management studies and ideas, this study investigates the preferences and motivations of prosumers in a large energy cooperative in Belgium by using revealed preference data in combination with self-reported motives. Despite the significant presence of prosumer preferences for participation and democratic voting rights, financial and especially ecological motives seem to be most important for being a member of an energy cooperative. In addition, a three-way classification of members is specified, based on the attribute preferences, which corresponds to a division of financial, ecological and social plus societal motives. Both in terms of effect size, willingness to pay and class-probability, ecological motives seem to be the most important factor for prosumers.
3. Thermal energy communities: Institutional settings and behavioural attributes for collective energy systems
Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, Netherlands
As an overarching term, ‘energy community’ is a term that encapsulates all local joint efforts and collective action of individuals for renewable energy generation, distribution and consumption. The recent academic literature and real-world practices on energy communities are mainly dominated by studies on specific renewable electricity technologies, namely solar photovoltaic and wind turbines. However, the energy community literature largely neglected thermal energy, which covers 75% of non-transport energy consumption for applications such as space heating, cooling and showering. Given this large share, establishing renewable thermal energy communities (TECs) could drastically impact the energy transition. Therefore, the study focuses on influential conditions for establishing and functioning TECs. By applying the Institutional Analysis and Design framework (IAD framework) to the literature, the current study structured and identified fifteen categories of conditions, such as available renewable resources, actors’ behavioural attributes, responsibilities and project leadership and energy reduction targets. Agent-based modelling and simulation was used for further investigation of these categories. The simulation results demonstrated the considerable TECs’ potential for CO2 emissions reduction while being affordable in the long run. Furthermore, environmentally friendly behaviour, available information and training, community-based leadership with municipality support and supportive policies were identified to be significantly impactful on energy performances within such systems potentially. Further insights on the identified categories are provided and translated to recommendations for involved actors.
4. Wind energy a commons ? The case of Lake Turkana Wind Power, Kenya
1The Academic college of Tel Aviv Yaffo, Israel, 2Haifa University, Israel
Governments in developing countries strive to comply with international guidelines as the SDG framework while simultaneously improving nationwide electricity systems to enhance reliability, ensuring a healthier environment, improving welfare, education and other services, and generating new job opportunities. Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) is a mega infrastructure consisting of 365 wind turbines in northern Kenya. LTWP establishment is part of Kenya’s ambition to promote its RE-based electrification to achieve Kenya Vision 2030 and guarantee the achievement of SDG 7.
LTWP is located on arid land and its habitants are the peoples of Turkana, Samburu and Rendille. Pre-construction steps were taken to evaluate the area’s environmental and population conditions but ignored community land rights or indigenous peoples’ rights.
The government-led project exemplifies the possibility of seeing renewable energy as a common good used for the benefit of all. However, community-based organisations actively opposed the construction during its establishment, local organisations raised questions on community land rights (not individual rights), and the case was brought before the court. Moreover, the surrounding population was not benefited from the common good and was not connected to the electrical grid.
The paper suggests the area’s historical remoteness, the people’s marginalisation, and the nature of politics- contribute to the complicated perception of energy as commons.
The transmission line between the locations of energy production to the site of consumption is an illustration of the deconstruction of energy as a private good and the reconstruction of renewable energy as a commons.