No one can put the local energy genie back in the bottle now

By Marie Claire Brisbois

Lecturer in Energy Policy (SPRU – Science Policy Research Unit) University of Sussex.

With the development of renewable energy sources, decentralised energy production is becoming more prevalent and its rapid expansion is disrupting politics in the energy sector.

Generated off-grid and produced close to where it will be used – rather than at a large plant elsewhere and sent through the national grid – decentralised energy can include micro-renewables, heating and cooling as well as geothermal, biomass or solar energy. Schemes can serve a single building, a whole community or be built out across an entire city.

As renewable energy communities capture market share, they are disrupting ownership of a sector that has traditionally been controlled by a relatively small number of profit-maximizing firms with increasing political conflict between new entrants and incumbent regime actors.

Dr Marie Claire Brisbois, as part of The Powershifts Project is examining the impact of renewable energy communities – a specific form of decentralised energy – on politics and markets. The first stage of the research used three case studies to understand whether and how political power is shifting and the implications of this change.

The key findings are:

  • Renewable energy communities are beginning to collectively shift political power
  • Renewable energy communities are building technical and political capacity, forming strategic political coalitions, and are increasingly enmeshed with local authorities
  • Where policy and regulatory frameworks are supportive of renewable energy communities, their expansion is leading to controlled growth of distributed electricity generation ownership. Where policy frameworks are unsupportive, this growth is present but ad hoc and often subversive

The expansion of renewable energy communities has implications for the overall fairness, stability and security of power systems.

Dr Brisbois is currently soliciting survey responses for Phase 2 of the Powershifts Project from policymakers and regulators who work on issues related to decentralised energy.

Read the policy brief: The political implications of energy decentralisation

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