Citizen participation in renewable energy can be defined broadly as the different ways in which inhabitants are involved in planning, funding, managing, governing and/or executing the development of renewables in cities.1 Citizensi can support the development of urban renewable energy by, for example:
choosing to purchase energy from a provider that offers renewable electricity or heat, in cities where consumer choice, such as green tariffs, is an option;
becoming individual prosumersii by producing all or part of their own energy;
getting together to form community energy projects;
participating in setting the direction for the development of urban energy systems; and
making their voices heard through bottom-up initiatives and campaigns in favour of renewables.
The active engagement of citizens in renewable energy development – as energy producers and as members of energy communities engaging in decision-making processes and wider campaigns – has been pivotal to the rising penetration of renewablesiii.2 Citizen participation stimulates investments by individuals and local communities in renewable energy generation.3 Citizen participation also is central to enabling a just transition to a decarbonised energy system that simultaneously considers the needs of impacted communities, addresses energy poverty and delivers on climate mitigation.4
Although citizen participation is usually based on bottom-up approaches and on the actions of inhabitants, municipal governments, because of their proximity to citizens, can play a strategic role in facilitating the involvement of citizens. Through their planning processes, municipal governments can include citizens in the design, ownership and management of energy systems to account for citizens in their positions as prosumers, owners of energy storage facilities, and holders of rights and entitlements to shape the development of urban energy systems.5
In return, engaging citizens at the local level increases public awareness about renewables and can accelerate cities’ transitions to renewable energy. For example, the siting of renewable energy projects generally is easier if all stakeholders are involved in the planning from the beginning and understand the potential benefits.6 Citizens also can play a central role in providing sites and investment for small-scale distributed projects. Further, citizen participation may address interlinked social issues relating to fuel poverty, health and well-being.7 Decision-making processes that involve active citizen participation can increase trust in the local community and government.8
The ability of municipal governments to engage citizens at the city level is greatly conditioned by decisions at higher levels of government. In addition, intermediary organisations, such as energy offices, innovation hubs and private consultants, play central roles in promoting citizen participation in the development of urban energy systems. These organisations can, for example, act as liaisons between local governments and communities; support existing or potential prosumers or community energy co-operatives by providing information, advice and investment support; assist in the implementation of technologies; and defend the interests of adopters.
iHere, “citizens” refers to people living in a particular place, rather than to people holding specific legal rights due to their nationality. Usually, residents within a city (regardless of citizenship) are able to shape city-level energy transitions. See Oxford Learner's Dictionaries, "Citizen", https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/citizen, viewed 15 November 2020.i
iiBoth consumers and producers of energy. See Glossary for full definition.ii