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Summer school: The role of citizens in the energy transition

Admission & participation info

The way that the energy transition takes place is important for us citizens because it shapes our future in many ways. This future is about secure, sustainable, competitive and affordable energy.

We see in the recent period a leading role of citizens in asking attention for climate change and addressing power structures through (social) media and direct action like Extinction Rebellion. On the other hand, we see also citizens opposing against the energy transition, its costs and consequences for the economy and individuals. Moreover, in particular the public acceptance of the siting of renewable energy projects. Some people fear that renewable energy, although sustainable, is no longer secure and affordable. Others fear that the present energy market and competition will not lead to enough available renewable energy.

The main question in this course is: what enables (us as) citizens to take ownership of the energy transition and gain its benefits? Without this ownership and without offering benefits to the citizens, the energy transition is in danger. What can we learn from research and practical experiences? This course links knowledge and insights from a broad field of social sciences. During the last two decades, a vast body of research and literature has become available on the role of citizens and community energy in the energy transition.

The course will address the role of citizens in the energy transition in their different capacities. These different, but overlapping capacities, will be the themes for the course through a number of academic lectures, guest lectures on practical experiences and discussion and designing of solutions by the course participants.

Learning objectives

The overall leaning goals is how the role of citizens could really become the core of the energy transition. For anyone that wants to contribute to the energy transition in their (future) professional life or as a citizen, the following learning goals are important:

  • Learn how citizens as consumers influence the energy market, what their motives and the side effects on their energy consumption are.
  • Learn what makes citizens as consumers vulnerable for energy poverty and what socio-economic characteristics might limit their possibilities to invest in clean energy, their entrance to the market, the possibility to become a prosumer and their possibilities to reduce their energy use.
  • Learn how the energy transition could strengthen democracy and public participation.
  • Learn to understand how the energy transition might collide with other interest of citizens, like the NIMBY phenomenon, and how to overcome this.
  • Learn what role citizens and public acceptance play in the rollout of sustainable energy technologies.
  • Learn how citizens as individuals or groups members can influence positive behavioural change of other citizens in the field of energy use.
  • Learn what fundamental changes in the form of social innovations are needed to give citizens a more equal role in the energy market compared to other large scale market players, and how governments can facilitate this.

Citizens in various roles

  • Citizens as active energy consumers

    Citizens can influence the energy market through consumer power. Traditionally, in the fossil fuel energy market, particularly for electricity, the market models base on centralised, large-scale fossil fuel plants producing electricity to meet passive consumers’ demand. This electricity market is changing. Many customers have the option to purchase renewable electricity directly from their power supplier. However, this raises interesting questions. Does the availability of green electricity mean that citizens as consumers actively participate to the energy market by responding to market prices? Are they still passive consumers? Is the choice for green electricity determined by someone’s personal commitment to the energy transition or just the price? Are there rebound effects if electricity is green? Do green electricity consumers reduce their own energy consumption?

  • Citizens as vulnerable consumers

    A well-functioning renewable energy market is accessible, inclusive, and responsive to the needs of all consumers. Changes in the market should not lead to a situation of energy poverty for some social-economic vulnerable groups. What makes these citizens vulnerable is not only the energy price as such, but also the possibility to profit from possibility to reduce their energy. What causes energy poverty? How can energy poverty be overcome?

  • Citizens as member of society

    Since the 1990s, the EU has been liberalising their energy markets, particularly the electricity markets. The anticipated benefits for citizens would be lower consumer prices while guaranteeing security of supply. This raises some questions about democracy and ownership. For instance, does the change of ownership from public and smaller companies to multinational corporations lead to less sustainable energy supply? Does the liberalisation of electricity tend to benefit larger consumers, like industrial users, more than citizens? Will the decentralization of energy systems typical for renewable energy lead to more local energy ownership? Are centralised, multinational power companies being replaced by prosumers, renewable energy co-operatives (REScoops) and municipal, community-owned power generation? Does the new role of different actors lead to a strengthening of democracy and public participation (energy democracy)?

  • Citizens as interest group

    Citizens might feel that some elements of the energy transition are against their interest. Besides climate sceptics this might be people that fear for the financial burden of the energy transition for society and themselves. Often this is in the form of residents opposing to a proposed renewable energy project in their local area. This is known by the acronym NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) which is not the same as NIABY (Not In Anybody's Back Yard). This raises questions like why do these residents oppose to the project close to them and would they tolerate or support such a project if it were built farther away? How can such an NIMBY opposition can be overcome?

  • Citizens as acceptors of technology

    Public acceptance is crucial for a successful implementation of renewable energy technologies in society. Not just community acceptance like in the previous role, but also if new renewable technologies enter the personal sphere or if they influence citizens own consumption choices. For instance, the adjustment to a different heating system of one’s own house or a different driving behaviour requested by an electrical or hydrogen car. That leads to questions like why many sustainable energy technologies fail to break  through, despite these technologies' potential to drastically improve the availability of renewable energy or the energy use saving performance.

  • Citizens in their role towards behavioural change of other citizens

    Apart from the impact the own behaviour of citizens has on the energy transition, like changing their individual energy consumption pattern, they can also affect other citizens. They can influence the awareness among others and by setting a good example influence other citizens to take the same action. It maybe also be in the form of concrete help to others. Here questions are if citizens trust other citizens or groups of citizens more than companies or government when it comes to information and action on energy? How do social norms play a role? What practical help can citizens or groups of citizens offer each other?

  • Citizens and social innovations

    The energy transition is not just about technology; when people think about the energy transition, the first thing that jump to their mind are new renewable energy sources and new technologies. The energy transition will lead to a fundamental change on how citizens need to function in the energy system. They will all need to develop a different relation with renewable energy than the one they had with fossil fuel energy. We need social innovations as new social practices that aim to meet our needs for energy in a better way than the existing way. What new regulations, policies, new business models, etc. are needed to extend and strengthen the role of citizens in the energy transition? Recently the European Union has put citizens at the core of the energy transition. The revised EU Renewables Directive provides explicit and well-defined roles for citizens and communities, defining ‘renewable energy communities’ and ‘self-consumption’. In how far does this Directive really leads to a more equal level playing ground for citizens in the energy market compared to the large-scale market players? What possibilities does it offer, through EU member states national legislation, to support renewable energy communities and self-consumers (i.e. ‘prosumers’)? What will it improve in the possibilities of citizens to invest in and co-own renewable generation facilities?

Course leader

dr. F.H.J.M. Coenen (Frans)
Associate Professor

Course details

  • Date: 2- 15 August, 2021
  • Format: Blended, first week online (2 - 8 August) and second week on-campus (9 - 15 August)
  • Methods: Interactive lectures, guest lectures from practitioners, group and individual assignments
  • Course level: Intermediate
  • Target group: Students in their third Bachelor’s year with an interest in sustainability, energy and climate
  • Required knowledge: Basic understanding of sustainable development
  • Credits: 2 ECTS credits for successfully completing the summer school

Festival schedule

Our summer school 2021 programme will be published soon. Stay tuned!

Want to know more?

If you need to know more, we have information available about the fee & programme, an admission checkregistration & paymentvisaaccomodation and the terms & conditions.