Critical community energy initiatives in the Netherlands: characteristics and support
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Energy systems worldwide are undergoing transitions to reduce their contribution to climate change. This includes the modest rise of energy prosumption (EP), whereby small energy consumers individually and collectively challenge existing energy business models by producing, saving, storing, and selling of renewable energy themselves. EP could empower citizens and communities to govern their own energy systems and thousands of community energy (CE) initiatives in Europe are attempting to do so locally. For these still small EP and CE niches and their key benefits to become part of the socio-technical energy system, stretch-and-transform processes are required to change the regime’s selection criteria. To better understand the influence of CE actors in bringing about policy changes, literature introduced the novel Critical niches (CN) perspective to complement the perspectives of Strategic niche management (SNM) and Niche policy advocacy (NPA). This research aimed to identify and study the most critically outspoken CE initiatives in the Netherlands, to better understand their role from a CN perspective in dimensions of Local experiments, Knowledge priorities, Niche intermediation, and Politics. Critically outspoken CE initiatives were selected by researching websites of over 500 Dutch CE initiatives. Relevant data was collected through semi-structured interviews with representatives of 12 identified CE initiatives. Results show that the studied CE initiatives do show some potential regarding Local experiments and Knowledge priorities. However, for Niche intermediation, they are not supported nor encouraged in taking on a critical role: their umbrella organizations appear to align to the NPA perspective and seem to discourage their members to take a more critical role. Moreover, regarding Politics, the initiatives themselves also have a clear preference for the NPA way of conducting themselves: they rather keep talking in good standing with policymakers, instead of being more critically outspoken or even publicly protest policies that hinder them. About half of the studied CE initiatives have certain ambitious goals that would require stretch-and-transform processes to be achieved. The CN perspective is especially of interest such ambitious CE initiatives to rethink their NPA approach. This research concludes that critical CE initiatives may not be found between CE cooperatives and suggests future research to study other types of CE initiatives from a CN perspective.