Power to and by the people - Counting how citizens shape the sustainable energy future

Citizens engage in various ways in the low carbon energy transition, but statistics lack. A new publication brings statistical evidence for their role, investments, and fields of engagement over the past 20 years, sourcing from a new Europe-wide inventory with over 10,000 initiatives in 29 countries.
Power to and by the people - Counting how citizens shape the sustainable energy future

Ordinary citizens are coming together through collective initiatives to play an active role in the low carbon transition. Citizen-led energy projects have grown over the past years to produce, distribute, and consume energy from renewable sources while being governed democratically, with benefits accruing locally. Co-lead author August Wierling says "Statistical evidence has been lacking and we wanted to go beyond the perspective of single case studies. Some say, only what is counted counts, which is why we have decided to start counting."

The recently published article in Nature Scientific Reports offers statistical evidence and cross-country insights into how collective action shapes the sustainable energy future. The team from the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences has carried out a major compilation over the past 4 years, investigating initiatives from 29 European countries. 

Throughout Europe, over 2 million people are members in over 10,500 citizen-led energy initiatives. Together, they have created nearly 23,000 projects in different aspects of the energy transition and are jump-starting Europe's renewable energy growth.

Across Europe these initiatives have collectively installed over 16,000 production units with 7-10 GW of total capacity. To put that in perspective, that's about the capacity of 20 average-size coal power plants. From 2010 to 2020, citizen-led energy initiatives quadrupled their renewable capacity from 2.5 GW. 

Our aggregate estimates do not raise expectations that collective action could replace commercial enterprises and governmental action in the short or medium term without profound changes to policy and market structures. The paper finds strong evidence for the nascent or actual importance of citizen-led collective action for increased energy self-sufficiency, local sustainable development, greater citizen engagement, diversification of fields of activities, social innovation, and acceptance of transition measures. A continued decentralization of energy systems and more stringent decarbonization policies will increase the importance of these actors in the future.

An animated documentary accompanying the scientific article sheds additional light into facts and figures around citizen-led energy initiatives, including their historic development. The documentary is available open access and can be used for educational purposes. It has been produced by scientists from the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences in collaboration with French artist Barbara Bellier.

The database itself is described in Nature Scientific Data and data are available open access via the repository dataverse.no. Reuse is encouraged through classification standards and controlled vocabularies. Collection was performed over a period of four years by an international team of trained researchers and assistants and validated both manually and through automated processes.

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