Exploring Community-Oriented Approaches in Demand Side Management Projects in Europe

Anna Mengolini, Flavia Gangale, Julija Vasiljevska
2016 Sustainability  
This paper seeks to investigate if the theoretical and political trends towards a more collective dimension of energy use are reflected in the design and development of demand side management (DSM) pilot projects in Europe. Specifically, the paper analyses DSM projects in the database of the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission to capture signs of a new attention towards the wider context in which consumers live and towards the social dimension associated with energy
more » ... th energy consumption. To this end, the paper investigates the projects' scope (in terms of project's partners, end-use sectors and targeted services) as well as the consumer engagement strategies that projects use. These elements reflect the projects' consideration for the socio-economic dimension of the community where the pilots take place and their inclination to build on community dynamics. The analysis shows that DSM projects in the EU are increasingly being designed and developed with a collegial approach to energy consumption in mind, although an integrated approach is still missing. In addition, research is still needed to link the use of this innovative approach to project results. A closer look at the developments and results of these projects can help to identify what works and what doesn't in real life experiences, thus supporting effective policy making at the EU and national level. the deployment of smart grids can enable the efficient integration of different services-electricity, water, gas, heating and cooling-in a single shared architecture, fostering conservation and a more efficient use of resources. To accelerate their deployment, however, it is argued [3,4] that consumers' participation and engagement should be promoted not only at an individual level, but also taking into consideration the wider social context in which consumers live and operate. The functioning of the smart grid will indeed rest on the interaction of a multiplicity of social players who operate as independent decision-makers driven by personal goals and attitudes as well as social interactions. Smart grids will bring forward a radical technological, environmental and economic transformation of the old system, affecting the way consumers live their lives and how they interact socially and culturally [5] . This is particularly true in the DSM domain, where consumers play a fundamental role. In this field, however, the current debate still focuses mainly on technological issues and economic incentives, mostly addressing energy demand issues with an individualistic approach to attitudes and choices [5] [6] [7] . This traditional approach concentrates primarily on individual feedback mechanisms, neglecting the complex social dimension of shared practices, goals and attitudes associated with energy consumption [7] [8] [9] . This individual-oriented approach appeals to the consumer self-enhancing values, and reflects a key concern with one's individual interests and well-being, e.g., in terms of comfort or economic savings [10] . A more recent stream of research, however, is investigating ways to activate consumer response by leveraging more on collective dynamics, suggesting a shift from an individual approach to energy management to a collegial one where consumers are seen and approached in their social context. This approach builds more on self-transcendent values and reflects a key concern with collective interests; it aims at building a sense of community and of shared values and goals [10] . Growing attention is given to strategies promoting active participation of end-users at community level, and on the role that communities can play in the transitioning energy system [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] . Community-based energy initiatives can indeed produce energy, reduce energy use, manage energy demand and purchase energy; they may therefore play an important role towards self-sufficiency and sustainability. These collective actions can develop solutions to meet local needs involving local people while contributing to energy security, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping costs down for consumers [17]. Doci et al. [11] view these initiatives as "social niches" capable of introducing social innovations in the electricity market resulting in new forms of organizations, business models and institutions. The collective dimension of energy use is increasingly recognised also at the European level. According to the European Commission, European consumers engage more and more in self-generation and cooperative schemes in order to better manage their energy consumption [18]. Regional and local energy initiatives are seen as facilitators of consumer participation in the energy market and in the effective governance for the Energy Union. According to [18] , such initiatives should be supported, as they can provide a valuable link between decision-makers, citizens and innovators, opening new opportunities for local communities to play an active role in the energy transition. The transition to a more participatory energy system, however, requires a shift from an approach based on individual-oriented strategies to a more comprehensive and integrated approach based on community-oriented strategies, where inclusivity and a collective sense of purpose and values are the drivers to transition [4, [19] [20] [21] . A more integrated approach that leverages on collective dynamics and on the integration of different actors and sectors (such as electricity, water, gas, heating and cooling) can indeed enhance consumer participation [4] . In this context, the aim of the present paper is to investigate if the theoretical trend and socio-political acknowledgement of a more collective dimension of energy use are reflected in the design and development of DSM projects in Europe. Several studies have analysed consumer engagement strategies in smart grid projects in Europe [22] [23] [24] and in the US [25] [26] [27] . This topic is emerging also as a field of investigation in other countries including China [28] , Japan [29] and
doi:10.3390/su8121266 fatcat:yl5vygrctjdndpf7eocq2lxfra