IEA (2021), Recommendations of the Global Commission on People-Centred Clean Energy Transitions, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/reports/recommendations-of-the-global-commission-on-people-centred-clean-energy-transitions, License: CC BY 4.0
Gaining broad public support at the beginning of policy design will play a crucial role in accelerating the successful implementation of clean energy policies, both in terms of overall political support and to build local acceptance of new developments or infrastructure. Citizens and communities should be active participants as decision makers, innovators and beneficiaries of clean energy actions.
A number of countries have used citizens’ assemblies to engage the public in discussion and decision making on climate action and clean energy transitions:
- In 2017, the Citizens’ Assembly of Ireland worked to make recommendations on how the country should enhance climate action. Denmark established a similar Citizens' Assembly in 2020, while Austria is preparing its first Citizens’ Climate Assembly to propose climate measures to the government.
- Canada’s Generation Energy engaged over 380 000 Canadians in a national conversation about Canada’s energy future, while France organised the Citizen’s Convention on Climate, giving citizens a mandate to recommend measures to meet 2030 emissions targets.
- The Vatican is seeking community engagement on environmental protection and social justice through the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, which will provide guidance and resources to individuals and communities to take environmental action.
These processes, where recommendations are seen to be given meaningful consideration, can build trust and support.
Similarly, clear communication on the benefits and process of clean energy transitions can greatly bolster citizen engagement and generate momentum for change. For example, to achieve its Kyoto Protocol commitments, Japan launched the national “Team Minus 6%” campaign to encourage six emissions-reducing lifestyle changes among its citizenry. India too has used public information campaigns to drive behavioural change under the #GiveItUp campaign, which encouraged voluntary surrender of an LPG subsidy for those who could afford it, while the #ILEDTHEWAY campaign popularised the use of LED lighting. Many energy efficiency measures deliver tangible benefits, such as more comfortable homes or more pleasant, healthier environments in schools and workplaces. Such experience can build positive associations with clean energy measures.
Communities also have an important role to play in clean energy transitions. Active engagement by citizens in renewable energy projects, for example, can pool local resources and bolster local acceptance, access to capital, consumer choice and local economic opportunities. Community ownership models help in this regard, as demonstrated by Denmark’s and Germany’s renewable energy cooperatives, and similar approaches in several other European countries, promoted by the European Union under the new concept of energy communities.
- Several other countries have promoted community models, including Spain and the United States, or Belgium’s CEDAN initiative, a citizen cooperative for electric car sharing. Belgium is also promoting citizen participation by means of renewable energy communities in offshore wind projects.
- Italy has introduced a renewable energy community initiative, where people can collaborate to locally produce renewable electricity, supported by public funding. Similarly, Austria’s Renewable Deployment Act includes measures to ensure citizens’ participation, such as through energy communities.
- Poland’s “My Electricity” programme provides funds to support the generation and consumption of electricity from micro-PV installations, which has led to a PV boom.
- The UNIDO-Global Environment Facility’s biomass gasification project built capacity for sustainable, community-driven renewable energy management in rural Thailand.
Community acceptance of clean energy infrastructure is also essential to successful transitions. EirGrid, the state-owned transmission operator in Ireland, recently undertook an intensive process of community consultations, with an emphasis on youth participation, to build understanding of the need for new infrastructure and to better understand community concerns. Governments and organisations can also lead by example, as evidenced by the Vatican’s installation of a large solar PV system close to the historic and symbolic Saint Peter’s Basilica.
Ireland Citizens’ Assembly
In 2016, the Programme for a Partnership Government committed to the creation of a Citizens’ Assembly in Ireland, which was subsequently established in 2017. The Assembly consisted of 99 randomly selected members, broadly representative of Irish society, plus a chairperson. Membership excluded politicians and representatives from advocacy groups. The Assembly was asked to consider several key issues facing the country, including “how the state can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change”. The Assembly reviewed this topic over two weekend meetings in September and November 2017, and invited submissions from the public, NGOs, representative groups and citizens’ organisations. Based on the Assembly’s discussions, informed by presentations by expert speakers and submissions from the public, the Assembly issued a set of 13 recommendations to the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) to address climate change. The recommendations ranged from the role climate change should play on the national agenda to carbon taxation, community ownership and self-consumption of renewables, modal shifts from private internal combustion cars, and changes in land use and agricultural practices.
Denmark Citizens’ Assembly
Denmark's Citizens' Assembly on Climate Issues is a civilian council that was formed with the objective of involving a representative selection of the Danish population in the planning of the country’s climate policies. The Citizens' Assembly consists of 99 members selected to best represent the Danish population, based on socio-economic criteria, such as age, gender, geography, education and income. In April 2021, after months of debate and discussion, the Citizens' Assembly tentatively adopted 119 recommendations for the green transition, which have been shared with the Minister of Climate, Energy and Utilities as well as the Climate, Energy and Utilities Committee. The recommendations cover a broad spectrum of topics, including education on the climate crisis at schools, carbon taxation and developing a green constitution. The assembly will again convene in the autumn of 2021 to continue work on recommendations for the government to undertake a green transition.
Citizens’ Climate Assembly in Austria
Based on the measures proposed in the Public Climate Referendum, the Austrian government is creating a Citizens’ Climate Assembly as a participatory process to discuss and develop proposals for a set of concrete measures to ensure the achievement of climate neutrality by 2040. These proposals will then be submitted to the government and the Austrian climate cabinet, and a final report will subsequently be presented to the climate cabinet and the National Climate Committee for discussion. The composition of the 100 members of the Citizens’ Climate Assembly will be a representative cross-section of the Austrian population. The overall management of the process will be put to a European-wide tender, and start by the end of 2021. The process will be guided by a scientific advisory committee and a stakeholder committee.
Canada Generation Energy
In 2017, Generation Energy engaged over 380 000 Canadians in a national conversation about Canada’s energy future. The discussion focused on three broad themes: 1) Canada’s energy future plan; 2) innovative and fact-based decision making; and 3) clean and affordable energy. In June 2018, the Generation Energy Council presented its report to the Minister of Natural Resources. The 14-member Generation Energy Council had a mandate to advise the Government of Canada on how the country could transition to a reliable, affordable, low-carbon future, informed by the extensive national dialogue with Canadians. The Council identified four pathways that could collectively lead to an affordable, reliable and clean energy future: clean power, energy efficiency, cleaner oil and gas, and low-carbon fuels. The Council also emphasized the central role for Indigenous People in Canada’s energy future, as leaders in the transition – acting as stewards of the land, environment and natural resources. Canada’s energy policy continues to be informed by these pathways, as it transitions to a net-zero future.
Citizen’s Climate Convention in France
The French Citizen’s Climate Convention was convened by the French president in 2018. The convention was comprised of a panel of 150 randomly selected citizens from across the country who were tasked with defining “measures to achieve the current climate target of 40% greenhouse gas emissions reductions by 2030 compared to 1990, in a spirit of social justice”. The citizens worked intensively for 9 months on the basis of hearings of experts with conflicting opinions and summaries of research (by academic experts, international bodies and NGOs). They were supported by dozens of experts to draft a set of concrete measures. Social dialogue specialists also facilitated the debates within the convention. The Convention and the related Citizen Assembly voted for 149 measures encompassing all sectors related to the ecological transition: mobility, consumption, housing, production and food. The French president committed to implement 146 of the 149 measures. To do so, the government is using different policy instruments: the new law on climate and resilience, which was adopted in August 2021, as well as a range of new regulations, financing instruments, and European and International initiatives.
The Vatican’s Laudato Si’ Action Platform
Pope Francis issued the Laudato Si’ encyclical in 2015. The encyclical was focused on care for our common home, listening and responding to the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth. A paradigm called ‘integral ecology’ is proposed in the 4th chapter of the encyclical. The Laudato Si’ Action Platform aims to help implement the principles of the encyclical through a collaboration between the Holy See, an international coalition of Catholic organisations and willing global citizens. Target audiences include families, parishes and dioceses, educational institutions, healthcare institutions, civil society organisations, the economic sector (including farms) and religious congregations. The platform will be launched during the last bimester of 2021, and it will help people act through a customised multiyear commitment toward sustainability. Hundreds of resources will be provided to users, including relevant literature, manuals, webinars and community-building tools, among others.
Japan Team Minus 6% campaign
"Team Minus 6%" was a nation-wide energy-saving campaign initiated by the Japanese Ministry of Environment in 2005 to help reduce GHG emissions in line with the country’s Kyoto Protocol pledge. As members of the “team”, all Japanese citizens were encouraged to take six actions: limit their use of air conditioners, reduce water consumption, stop idling cars, buy environmentally friendly products, refuse extra wrapping of purchases and unplug unused appliances. By 30 June 2008, toward the end of the campaign, 2.3 million individuals and 22 000 companies had signed on. As part of the programme, the government launched its Cool Biz campaign to encourage energy saving during the summer. Between June and September, all offices are advised to turn their air conditioners on only when the temperature reaches 28°C. The reduction in CO2 emissions from Cool Biz in 2006 was estimated at 1.4 million metric tonnes, equivalent to the amount of pollution produced by three million households in a month.
India’s #GiveItUp campaign
The #GiveItUp campaign was launched by the government of India in 2015 to encourage LPG users who can afford to pay the market price for LPG to voluntarily surrender their LPG subsidy, motivated by a national effort to bring down a massive subsidy bill for the government. The campaign not only targets consumers to give up their LPG subsidy, but also aims to empower and safeguard the health of poorer women and children by providing them with clean cooking fuel. As of 2019, approximately 72 million consumers have given up their LPG subsidy. Since the launch of the PMUY scheme, which is focused on connecting households below the poverty line with LPG, and the related #Giveitup Campaign, the proportion of Indian households using LPG, has increased from 56.2% to 89%, which represents an increase of 33.2%, driven by the popularisation of cleaner fuel alternatives and LPG subsidies.
ILEDTHEWAY CAMPAIGN in India
A national level public relations campaign was launched by the Minister of Power and energy service company Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) to generate awareness among the population on the benefits of switching to energy efficient LED lighting. Previously, the Minister of Power had launched the Domestic Efficient Lighting Program, which offered LED bulbs at discounted prices, but found that uptake was constrained by perceptions of high costs and lack of awareness. With the help of the campaign, EESL was able to distribute approximately 10 million LED bulbs in a span of just one month. A microsite was also developed as part of the campaign, allowing citizens to register themselves for the campaign and purchase subsidised LED bulbs. To further promote energy efficiency, for every three tweets of #ILEDTHEWAY on twitter, an LED bulb was donated to a village in need. In addition to the online campaign, door-to-door education tours were also conducted. The campaign had over 30 million people pledged to switching to LED bulbs. Over 90 million LED bulbs were distributed across the country.
Italy’s renewable energy community initiative
The European Directives 2018/2001 (RED-II) and 944/2019 unleashed huge potential for energy communities’ substantial development at the European level. In 2021, Italy issued EUR 2.2 billion in grants to promote self-consumption of renewables, encouraging renewable energy communities. The City of Magliano Alpi applied for access the incentive mechanism and established Italy’s first renewable energy community in December 2020, under which it promotes innovative aggregation and governance structures for clean energy. The community model enables citizens to become energy prosumers, towards a more inclusive electricity market. Consumers can produce energy from sustainable sources like rooftop solar, and either sell surplus energy to the grid or share it with neighbouring buildings. The possible aggregation of smart and efficient infrastructure may also allow private investors to cross necessary investment thresholds and achieve economies of scale as well as empower communities to benefit from further funding and financial incentives in the country. The municipality represents a testing ground for new business models and financial products.
Austria’s Renewable Deployment Act
The Renewables Deployment Act includes a mix of policies that aims at ensuring a 100% share of renewable sources in Austrian electricity consumption by 2030. It focuses on investment incentives and market premium models, shifting away from feed-in tariffs in former legislation.
A key element in the new policy approach is the enabling of energy communities. This way, citizens can actively participate in the implementation of the energy transition. Members of energy communities can be both consumers and producers of renewable energy, and are entitled to consume, share, store and sell their own production, leading to increased autonomy over energy supply. In addition, the law provides certain benefits to make participation in energy communities economically attractive too. The decentralised approach aims at promoting strong citizen engagement and a wide geographical distribution of renewable production capacity, in turn leading to a better grid balance. In order to bundle measures to promote energy communities, the Ministry for Climate Action (BMK) has entrusted the Climate and Energy Fund with the establishment of the "Austrian Coordination Platform for Energy Communities". This platform aims to optimise the framework conditions for successful and easy implementation of the energy community model throughout Austria.
Poland’s “My Electricity” programme
The "My Electricity" programme in Poland is a nationwide project aimed at increasing the share of distributed solar PV in the production of electricity, with funding from the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management. The support includes subsidies for PV installations targeted at households to cover own electricity needs (with capacity between 2 and 10 kW). Beneficiaries receive a non-refundable subsidy covering up to 50% of eligible investment costs, up to PLN 5 000 (EUR 1 100). The subsidy can be used to pay for devices such as PV panels and inverters, cables, as well as for solar panel installation. In its second round, the programme’s budget amounts to PLN 1.1 billion (EUR 243 million) and will contribute to the installation of around 220 000 solar panels. In the third round of the programme (2021-2023) beneficiaries receive a non-refundable subsidy of up to PLN 3 000 (EUR 649); the programme’s budget amounts to over PLN 500 million (EUR 109 million). Combined with the available tax deductions, the subsidy under the “My Electricity” programme is expected to shorten the payback period on the installation of PV panels from 12 to 8 years (while the panels’ lifetime is currently estimated at 25 years).
UNIDO-GEF biomass gasification in Thailand
The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) implemented a project with funding from the Global Environment Facility to promote small-scale biomass gasification plants that generate electricity from agricultural and wood processing waste in rural Thailand. The project aims to reduce the carbon footprint of energy production and usage, while promoting community engagement in building and operating the plants. As part of the project, the Thai Ministry of Energy’s Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency led training sessions with around 200 participants between 2015 and 2016. As a result, the project resulted in the construction and commissioning of two 125 kW demonstration biomass gasification plants with the help of research partners in rural Thailand. UNIDO engaged with local partners at the Chiang Mai University’s Science and Technology Research Institute in northern Thailand to establish an information and learning centre for communities, financial institutions, project developers, public sector organisations, the private sector, students and the general public. From the start, community members have been active participants in the project to ensure that the community can fully benefit from the construction of the plants.
Spain renewable energy communities
Spain’s National Energy and Climate Plan includes a measure to promote the development of collective self-consumption through the creation of local energy communities. Royal Decree 244/2019 created the framework that allows several consumers within the same community, such as a neighbourhood or residents’ association, to share ownership and access to generation facilities located within the community. The government has further supported these efforts by streamlining approvals and providing training and capacity building. The government sees collective self-consumption as an attractive opportunity to expand renewables capacity as it offers more efficient use of limited space in urban areas as well as lower investment costs per user and the ability to share technical, administrative and operational knowledge.
Community renewables in the United States
Community renewables projects, or “shared renewables”, in the United States follow a community ownership structure to increase access to electricity generated from renewable energy systems. Under the model, customers can buy or subscribe to a portion of a shared project or its renewable generation. The model has proven especially attractive to customers that have limited on-site potential for renewables, including renters or others without means to install renewable energy generators on their homes or businesses. In particular, community solar has proven popular, with 3.4 GW of total installed capacity as of mid-2021. A 2015 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that more than half of Americans that want to install rooftop solar systems are not able to do so on their own. A number of states across the country have enacted legislation enabling shared renewables and several others are considering it.
Citizens’ cooperatives in Belgium
In Belgium, citizens are working together to produce renewable energy, especially solar and wind, to have more autonomy and to get green electricity at a fairer price. Those citizens’ cooperatives are socially committed enterprises and are locally anchored. In Belgium, the citizens’ cooperatives working to produce renewable energy are part of the REScoop Vlaanderen network. CoopStroom, Partago and CEDAN are three cooperatives that are part of the REScoop Vlaanderen network that propose shared electric cars to their shareholders. However, to promote electric cars, they are now opening up their electric car-sharing network to all citizens who have invested in renewable energy through their renewable energy cooperatives. Thanks to their membership of a citizen cooperative, any member can drive with any cooperative shared electric car available in Flanders.
Belgium’s citizens communities for offshore wind
Belgium wants its citizens to play a more active role in the electricity market. From 2023, Belgian citizens will be able to form communities and invest together in offshore wind projects to then enjoy the electricity they produce. Belgium recognises that wind farms are essential to achieve the country’s renewable energy targets and wants to double installed offshore wind capacity by 2030. This will allow people to have a more direct role in the energy transition, and will promote better understanding and social acceptance of offshore wind projects.
EirGrid’s community consultations in Ireland
EirGrid, the state-owned transmission operator in Ireland, undertook an intensive process of community consultations, with an emphasis on youth participation, to address externalities associated with expanding the electricity grid. Through the engagement process, EirGrid acknowledged that local communities are often impacted by newly built infrastructure so supporting these communities can be integral for a project’s successful implementation. Through open dialogue, EirGrid gained a better understanding of community concerns, and has developed a Community Support Fund that provides compensation to local communities located closest to new transmission infrastructure. For instance, the EUR 360 000 fund created for EirGrid’s Mullingar-Kinnegad transmission line was distributed to 37 community groups within 2 kilometres of the line.
Denmark community ownership of renewables
A significant part of Denmark’s remarkable success with wind power generation has been its promotion of community ownership of wind farms. The community ownership has helped wind turbines overcome challenges such as limited space, costs and resistance to visual and noise impacts as local communities directly profit from power generation. For example, the Middelgrunden wind facility (20 turbines), which completed construction in 2000, invited private investment from local citizens. Ultimately, 8 650 Danes raised EUR 23 million to finance half the project’s cost and become 50% equity participants (the municipal utility owned the other half). The project’s success led to more energy cooperatives for wind farms throughout the country. And the municipal utility for the city of Copenhagen plans to build 100 more wind turbines by 2025 with local cooperatives invited to participate. Partnerships with local utilities have proven a successful model for renewable energy cooperatives as they facilitate grid connections for wind projects. Since 2009, the Danish Renewable Energy Act has required at least 20% ownership for all new wind projects.
Germany’s renewable energy cooperatives
Throughout Germany, citizens’ cooperatives have developed renewable energy installations, taking a direct role in the country’s clean energy transition. One of the main benefits of community ownership models is that citizens can invest in local facilities where the cost for an individual might be too high. Such models can also include municipalities and companies as participants. A 2018 study found that citizens’ energy ownership amounted to 42% in 2016 (31.5% owned by private individuals and 10.5% by farmers). In that year, there were over 1 000 energy cooperatives across the country. While the shift in remuneration for renewables projects based on 2016 reforms to the auction system that favoured corporate investments, the reforms granted special privileges to citizens’ energy groups (though those were later suspended in 2018, due to misuse based on indistinct definitions).
Energy communities in the EU
Energy communities organise collective and citizen-driven energy actions that support the energy transition by allowing people to team up and take ownership of the energy transition, enhancing public acceptance and the uptake of sustainable energy solutions. The Clean energy for all Europeans package, and more specifically the Directive on common rules for the internal electricity market [(EU)2019/944] and the revised Renewable Energy Directive [2018/2001/EU], have introduced citizen energy communities and renewable energy communities. Energy communities can take any form of legal entity, allow for active consumer participation in generation and use through community ownership models, as well as provide flexibility services through demand response, storage and sale of electricity.
Vatican installation of PV system
To help green its operations, as promoted by Pope Benedict XVI, the in 2008 Vatican installed 2 394 PV modules on a part (2 134 square meters) of the roof of the Papal Audience Hall near St. Peter’s Basilica. The remaining part of the roof, approximately 2000 square meters, has been covered by special screens that increase the amount of solar energy received from the PV modules. Since then, the Papal State has been producing 300 MWh of solar energy every year. The energy produced by this plant helps the Vatican save around 225 tons of CO2 each year. With the installation of this system, the Vatican has led by example and helped promote the use of solar power worldwide by greening a building with high historical and cultural significance. Moreover, a solar cooling plant for the Vatican’s Staff Canteen was installed between 2009 and 2010, saving an additional 80 tons of CO2 each year.