Citizens play a critical role in the European Union’s (EU) green transition, as they are the ones who will ultimately benefit from the energy system. The European Union has recognized the importance of citizen participation in energy planning and has taken steps to promote it. The EU’s Clean Energy Package, for example, includes provisions to encourage greater citizen engagement in energy decision-making processes. These provisions aim to ensure that citizens have a say in the development of energy policies, and that their views are taken into account when making important energy-related decisions (Wahlund & Palm, 2022).
There are several ways in which citizens can contribute to the green transition:
Energy efficiency: Citizens can improve the energy efficiency of their homes and workplaces by reducing energy consumption, investing in energy-efficient appliances and lighting, and improving insulation (Nouri, et al., 2022).
Sustainable mobility: Citizens can reduce their carbon footprint by using sustainable modes of transportation such as cycling, walking, or using public transport.
Advocacy and engagement: Citizens can also influence the green transition by advocating for more ambitious climate and energy policies, and by engaging with policymakers, businesses, and other stakeholders to promote sustainability and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Citizen involvement can take many forms, from participating in public consultations and town hall meetings to organizing grassroots campaigns and initiatives. Through their engagement, citizens can help to shape the direction of energy policy and hold their governments and energy providers accountable for their actions.
Renewable energy: The contribution of citizens to the energy transition is not limited to demand reduction as they can also invest in renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. This can be done through community energy projects or by installing renewable energy systems on their own property (Campos, et al., 2020).
The energy system moving towards more renewables has created an opportunity for more citizen-owned generation facilities to be part of the system, instead of a few large power plants owned wholly by companies. According to the EEA (Agency, 2022) report, consumers who produce renewable energy, also known as ‘prosumers’, can reap many benefits for themselves and the society as a whole. European citizens can improve their energy independence through prosumation at a time when energy prices are high and energy insecurity is a concern. Prosumerism can also have social benefits like bringing about a sense of community and empowerment. In order to strengthen citizens’ role as energy producers, we should empower them to generate, store, consume, and sell electricity not only from their homes, but also in their communities where energy cooperatives produce affordable energy for their members (The role of citizens in the energy transition, 2016).
Throughout Europe, there are now many individuals in addition to groups of people such as residents in apartment complexes or neighbouring farm owners who are becoming prosumers. These prosumer projects can have different types of ownership arrangements and include different technologies. Figure 1 shows an overview of the how prosumers can fit into the system.
Citizen-led energy projects have grown to produce, distribute, and consume energy from renewable sources while being governed democratically, with benefits accruing locally (Wierling, et al., 2023). These citizen-led energy initiatives contribute to increasing energy self-sufficiency and ramping up of renewable energies, local sustainable development, greater citizen engagement, diversification of activities, social innovation, and acceptance of transition measures (Schwanitz, et al., 2023). Collectively, prosumers can influence energy transition trajectories and work as change agents toward a more decentralized, democratic, inclusive, fair, and sustainable energy model. Energy citizens are helping transform the current energy model to a more socially valuable system, by radically changing the energy market, and bringing about a more ethical economic and financial system. This new energy model will include a new culture for generating and using energy so that people’s needs are met while ensuring economic and environmental sustainability. To achieve this, we will need to conceptualize novel production and consumption practices, structures, and power relationsfor the energy transition (Campos & Marín-González, People in transitions: Energy citizenship, prosumerism and social movements in Europe, 2020).
The importance of prosumer projects in energy planning lies in the fact that they largely utilize household funds otherwise unavailable for renewable energy investments (Agency, 2022). This can speed up Europe’s energy transition to renewables, reduce its reliance on imports, and curb greenhouse gas emissions. Figure 2.a shows estimates of citizen-led contributions to the energy transition in Europe focusing on data from 2000 to 2021. Figure 2.b shows the number of newly founded, as well as dissolved, initiatives from 1900 to 2020.
There are still a many difficulties that prosumers are facing such as costs, legal barriers, a shortage of volunteers, and a lack of experience. Prosumer prospects, however, are expanding as a result of technology advancement and, more critically, a more accommodating EU policy environment. The current REPowerEU plan and accompanying Solar Rooftop program now heavily emphasize prosumers. According to the EEA analysis, nearly all EU individuals have the capacity to become energy prosumers.
In summary, citizens are essential to the success of the EU’s green transition. By taking action to reduce their own carbon footprint, investing in renewable energy, and advocating for ambitious climate and energy policies, citizens can help to accelerate the transition towards a more sustainable and resilient future.
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Nouri, A., Khadem, S., Mutule, A., Papadimitriou, C., Stanev, R., Cabiati, M., Carroll, P. (2022). Identification of Gaps and Barriers in Regulations, Standards, and Network Codes to Energy Citizen Participation in the Energy Transition. Energies, 15(3), 856.
Campos Inês, Pontes Luz Guilherme, & Marín-Gonzá. (n.d.). Regulatory challenges and opportunities for collective renewable energy prosumers in the EU.
Campos, I., Pontes, L. G., Marín-González, E., Gährs, S., Hall, S., & Holstenkamp, L. (2020). Regulatory challenges and opportunities for collective renewable energy prosumers in the EU. 138, 111212.
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Schwanitz, V. J., Wierling, A., Paudler, H. A., von Beck, C., Dufner, S., Koren, I. K., Zeiss, J. P. (2023). Statistical evidence for the contribution of citizen-led initiatives and projects to the energy transition in Europe. Scientific Reports, 13(1), 1342.
Campos, I., & Marín-González, E. (2020). People in transitions: Energy citizenship, prosumerism and social movements in Europe. Energy Research & Social Science, 69, 101718.
Dr. Marta Victoria
Department of Mechanical and Production Engineering
AURORA Lead on the Energy Awareness Demonstrators
Aarhus University, Denmark