Making local energy systems inclusively sustainable - by ourselves, with a little help by friends

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Let us imagine a group of highly motivated and dedicated citizens with diverse expertise and knowledge coming together as a cooperative to flag their concerns about unsustainable practices in a metropolitan energy system. Can such a citizen-led cooperative even challenge the neoliberal growth paradigm in the energy market?

It seems that the present energy market has various social and ecological disadvantages that are not well tackled by the profit-oriented monopolized private energy market. This leads to the engagement of citizens who are increasingly aware of political landscapes, their needs, and their capabilities. Can they aspire to govern local energy systems themselves, in ways that are inclusive, accessible, and sustainable in the long run?

Such citizen-led cooperatives can extend and strengthen by acquiring financial and in-kind support from businesses, research institutes, NGOs, students, and media. Cooperatives may also profit from inviting experts with experience in establishing similar interventions for guidance throughout the process, especially at the early stages. Furthermore, awareness campaigns with the help of the media can sensitize the general public and help to earn trust and support from political leaders.

A flexible project management approach (as per changing on ground circumstances) without compromising on the fundamental vision and goal of intervention can keep the intervention relevant and alive. In addition to this, supportive EU directives such as the EU Renewable Energy Directive, national policies, and constitutional rights (for example right to hold plebiscites, right to assembly, and right to form cooperatives) can provide an enabling environment for such interventions.

Governing energy systems as a cooperative could allow for wide participation among the membership. However, to ensure accountability, a supervisory board consisting of founders and highly engaged individuals could develop strategic plans and take action. Yet, the intervention may confront various challenges especially related to financial arrangements, political culture, and regulatory procedures. Financial challenges could be tackled partly with shareholder/membership fees and partly by attracting donors and sponsors. Political and general public opinion can be influenced by running awareness campaigns, engaging with the media, and reaching out to individuals.

Introducing a citizen-driven management partner, thus overcoming the dichotomy of public vs. private management, could be highly challenging. However, different paths and approaches can be adopted to realize the overarching goals of intervention while carefully aligning various stakeholders and securing wide public support.

Do you want to learn more about this scenario?

Take a look at the detailed description of Citizens share in Berlin Energy Grid for sustainable energy that has inspired this scenario.

This scenario fits under the approaches:

  • Civil disobedience. This approach refers to a public, non-violent and conscientious breach of law undertaken with the aim of bringing about a change in laws or government policies.
  • Energy and Mobility solutions. This approach cluster addresses technological interventions that can support the transition to a low-carbon society.

It addresses a driver of injustice:

  • Unquestioned Neoliberal growth and austerity urbanism. This driver refers to processes of privatization, commercialization, budget cuts and state withdrawal from various sectors and how they can undermine urban sustainability, guided by an ideology of unfettered economic growth which often aligns with austerity policies.