What is the role of citizens in producing and distributing their own renewable energy? How can this so-called prosumerism help building a more sustainable future? The PROSEU (PROSumers for the Energy Union: Mainstreaming active participation of citizens in the energy transition) project strove to understand what incentive structures will enable the mainstreaming of renewable energy prosumerism in the European Energy Union, while safeguarding citizen participation, inclusiveness and transparency.
In its effort to become an energy-efficient, low-carbon economy and to reach the goal of the Paris Agreement, the European Union decided to invest in developing more affordable and resource-efficient energy solutions. This requires the involvement and better cooperation of all stakeholders, including end-users. Citizens are thus taking ownership of the transition towards greener energy, as opposed to leaving it to the traditional actors.
The many grassroots energy initiatives that started sprouting across the EU, aim at bridging the gap between investors, producers and consumers. The latter, by producing their own renewable energy at local or neighbourhood level, become what are called prosumers. Prosumerism gives a new meaning to citizen participation: not only do they criticise and try to influence public policies, they also take responsibility for it themselves.
How communities, towns and cities can reduce reliance on centralised power is an important question for the future of European energy policy. Those local initiatives both address the global environmental challenge by making a concrete contribution to the shift from fossil to renewable energy; but also work out new business models, based on coproduction and cooperative ownership. This contributes to developing new forms of democracy and transparency in the economic sphere.
Researching the mainstreaming of prosumerism
PROSEU (PROSumers for the Energy Union: Mainstreaming active participation of citizens in the energy transition) was a three-year research project which aimed to understand what incentive structures will enable the mainstreaming of Renewable Energy (RE) Prosumerism in the European Energy Union, while safeguarding citizen participation, inclusiveness and transparency. Prosumers are active energy users who both consume and produce RE.
The research looked into new business models, market regulations, infrastructural integration, technology scenarios and energy policies. PROSEU’s interdisciplinary team worked closely together with RE Prosumer Initiatives, policymakers and other stakeholders from eight countries in Living Labs. These Living Labs involved partners from across the policy, business and civil society spheres and lead to the creation of a Prosumer Community of Interests, linking Prosumers and Living Labs with community-led initiatives, cooperatives, consumer groups and organisations, local and regional governments, businesses and research across the EU.
The overall results of the project are available via the dedicated website and via the European Cordis database. The DRIFT team highlights three main insights via the following blogs on our website:
- At three crossroads: where does prosumerism lead us?
- … more to follow
DRIFT’s work focused on the following tasks:
1 / Analysing the incentive structures that will enable RE prosumer mainstreaming across Europe, we identified 16 different conditions within one of the following dimensions: regulatory & financial conditions, technological-material conditions and cultural-discursive conditions. See here for the full report.
Full reference: Pel, B., Wittmayer, J.M., Geus, T., Oxenaar, S., Avelino, F., Fraaije, M., Petrick, K., Doračić, B., Toporek, M., Brown, D., Campos, I., Gährs, S., Davis, M., Horstink, L., Hinsch, A., Marín-Gonzales, E., Ehrtmann, M., Klarwein, S., Fosse, J., Hall, S., Kampman, B. (2019). Synthesis of incentive structures: input for Participatory Integrated Assessment. (Deliverable 6.1). PROSEU – Prosumers for the Energy Union: Mainstreaming active participation of citizens in the energy transition
2 / This overview of incentive structures was used as a basis to organize a pan-European transdisciplinary dialogue with a range of different actors (policy, business, research, prosumer initiatives, etc.) to assess in a participatory way the directions that the mainstreaming of prosumerism should take. This dialogue took place over a period of 6 months in 2020 and involved 139 participants from across Europe.
3 / As a reminder to be explicit about value trade-offs in policy and research, we formulated 10 provocations based on the participatory integrated assessment dialogues. Watch the invitation by DRIFTer Tessa de Geus to use these provocations for having conversations with individuals and across different stakeholders groups – and thus as a simple means to democratize energy transitions here (starting at minute 26:40) A full list of provocations and the background reading, can be found here.
Full reference: de Geus, T., Wittmayer, J., Van Berkel, F. (2021). Charging the future: Discussing value tensions for mainstreaming prosumerism to 2030 and 2050 PROSEU – Prosumers for the Energy Union: Mainstreaming active participation of citizens in the energy transition (Deliverable N°6.3).
4 / DRIFT has collaborated with Buurtwarmte and with Aardehuizen Oolst in transdisciplinary research into the institutional barriers of collective prosumers and their stakeholder networks. This transdisciplinary research combined practical, needs-driven interventions with research-driven data collection through establishing a collaboration with a range of different stakeholders. The collaboration with Buurtwarmte focused on the development of local sustainable heat provision in the Netherlands, and with Aardehuizen-Oolst on becoming a self-sufficient ‘energy plus’ community. For more information about these two Living Labs (and many more in other European countries) please see the PROSEU inspiration book here.
5 / Based on a mapping of prosumer initiatives (incl. energy cooperatives, energy businesses, municipal energy activities and more) all over Europe, DRIFT has developed a typology of collective prosumer initiatives that differentiates between their formalization and motivation to arrive at five primary types: Market-focussed RES Prosumers, Community-focussed RES Prosumers, Non-Profit-focussed RES Prosumers, State-focussed RES Prosumers and Hybrid RES Prosumers. The last category covers a large group of collective RES prosumers who are motivated by socio-ecological concerns and are formalised as either for- or non-profit ventures. Taking the variables organisational structure and governance, a further differentiation took place. The full report can be found here.
Full reference: Wittmayer, J.M., Fraaije, M., Avelino, F. Horstink, L. (2019). A multi-dimensional typology of collective RES prosumers across Europe. (Deliverable N°2.2). PROSEU – Prosumers for the Energy Union: Mainstreaming active participation of citizens in the energy transition.
DRIFT work has also resulted in several open-access publications, these are as follows:
- Wittmayer, J.M., Campos, I., Avelino, F., Brown, D., Doračić, B., Fraaije, M., Gährs, S., Hinsch, A., Assalini, S., Becker, T., Marín-González, E., Holstenkamp, L., Bedoić, R., Duić, N., Oxenaar, S., and T. Pukšec (under review) Prefiguring renewable, just, and democratic energy systems: collective prosumer ecosystems.
- Horstink, L, Wittmayer, J.M. Ng, K. (2021) Defining the role of collective renewable energy prosumers in the EU’s clean energy transition: a critical perspective. Energy Policy. 153, 112262. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2021.112262
- Wittmayer, J.M., Avelino, F., Pel, B. & I. Campos (2021) Contributing to sustainable and just energy systems? The mainstreaming of renewable energy prosumerism within and across institutional logics. Energy Policy 149, 112053. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2020.112053
- Wittmayer, J.M., de Geus, T., Pel, B., Avelino, F., Hielscher, S., Hoppe, T., Mühlemeier, S., Stasik, A., Oxenaar, S., Rogge, K.S., Visser, V., Marín-González, E., Ooms, M., Buitelaar, S., Foulds, C., Petrick, K., Klarwein, S., Krupnik, S., de Vries, G., Wagner, A., Hartwig, A. (2020) Beyond instrumentalism: Broadening the understanding of social innovation in socio-technical energy systems. Energy Research & Social Science 70, 101689.
- Loorbach, D., Wittmayer, J.M., Avelino, F., von Wirth, T. and N. Frantzeskaki (2020) Transformative innovation and translocal diffusion. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions. 35: 251-260. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eist.2020.01.009
Duration of the project
PROSEU ran from 2018 to 2021.
PROSEU was funded under the Horizon 2020 program (call LCE-31-2016-2017; Grant Agreement 764056).
The project was coordinated by the Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Changes (CE3C) of the University of Lisbon. Other partners are University of Porto, ICLEI Europe, Clientearth, University of Leeds, University of Zagreb, Leuphana University, Eco-Union, Institut für ökologische Wirtschaftsforschung and CE.
Julia Wittmayer, Tessa de Geus, Maria Fraaije, Flor Avelino, Matthijs Hisschemöller, and former colleagues/current compatriots Sem Oxenaar en Bonno Pel