An essential pillar towards energy transition 

What is energy citizenship? 

Global warming is increasing the number of extreme weather events, and the current energy crisis in Europe make necessary to accelerate the energy transition away from fossil fuels. 

The aim of the acts within the Clean Energy Package (2019) is to facilitate a transition in the EU towards renewable energy sources. Consumers’ participation plays an important role in the decarbonisation of the energy sector. This is due to energy decentralisation, which is shifting the traditional concept of citizens-as-consumers to energy citizenship. Energy citizenship is a concept that has been receiving a lot of attention recently due to its importance in the energy transition. 

An interdisciplinary definition describes energy citizenship as “people’s rights to and responsibilities for a just and sustainable energy transition”. A transition is sustainable when it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. A just energy transition seeks to overcome structural barriers to participation, ensuring a global energy system that fairly distributes both the benefits and burdens of energy services, preventing energy poverty. 

Energy citizenship is a multifaceted concept that includes beliefs, emotions, motivation, and behaviours all indicating energy citizenship (perceiving responsibility, feeling positive towards an energy transition, and willingness to join an energy community). Energy citizenship includes not only individual consumption but also collective actions such as voting, writing to government officials and protesting. 

Energy citizenship and identification with an energy community 

From a psychological perspective, energy citizenship is people’s belief that they, as individuals and as collectives, have rights and responsibilities for a just and sustainable energy transition. This idea is connected to the social identity perspective. Social identity is that part of an individual’s self-concept that arises from their group memberships and its emotional value (Tajfel, 1978). In this way, we define ourselves as ‘we’ instead of ‘I’.  

One of the most important identities in the context of energy citizenship is the identification with an energy community. It is often started by community members that have the goal to promote better sustainable energy practices in their community. These could be energy saving programs, producing your own electricity and providing energy surplus to the grid, collective purchase of solar cells, and energy production via a local renewable energy project. Energy communities can have a big impact promoting inclusion by allowing more and different types of people to participate in energy transition. Moreover, energy communities are initiatives that give citizens a say in the production of their energy. They contribute to a socially just energy transition by allowing citizens to influence decisions that affect and benefit them. 

The ongoing energy transition calls not only for technological innovations, but also for various social transformations. Energy citizenship can contribute to accelerating the transition to a more sustainable energy system. However, we need to be more aware of its many forms (energy communities, consumer choice, etc.), understand the factors that drive and hinder it in different contexts, and above all, further implement national and local policies enabling citizens to take an active role in the low-carbon transition. 

Written by: Mariangela