Why Energy Democracy is Necessary for a Sustainable and Just Future

A novel social movement that is still in its emergence

Athina Kontolati
Sep 1, 2020 · 4 min read
Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash

The support of economic growth relies on energy to a great extent. Energy plays a significant role in enhancing people’s standard of living (1).

Today, energy governance, both at a global and national level, face a variety of challenges. Climate change, public health, and water quality are some of these challenges. In this context, the necessity of energy transformation leads the road to the development of a model that is not associated with the causes of contemporary energy-related problems (2).

What is necessary for the energy transformation to be fulfilled is the decarbonization of the current energy system, which in turn requires the “increased deployment of renewable energy sources (RES)”. One of the main advantages that RES have over conventional sources, e.g., coal, gas, etc., is that they can be deployed not only on a large scale but on a small scale too. Thus, RES investment and development can also benefit cooperatives and small businesses, as well as individuals and local communities. As a consequence, the increased role of societal actors is promoted (2).

The need for the development of a sustainable energy model globally due to the climate crisis is apparent. However, sustainability also needs to be achieved in general.

As mentioned in Kretschmann (2020) there are three basic aims of sustainability. First, wealth has to be distributed amongst as many people as possible. Second, both a strong and beneficial economy must be developed. And third, but not least, environmental protection has to be ensured (3).

In short, sustainability has three dimensions: social, economic, and environmental. The concept that combines all three dimensions of sustainability concerning the transformation of the current energy model is that of energy democracy.

“…increased citizen participation in decision-making…[and second, by] increased civic, community and/or public ownership of the means of energy production…”

What characterizes energy democracy according to existing definitions is twofold. First, energy democracy is characterized by “…increased citizen participation in decision-making…[and second, by] increased civic, community, and/or public ownership of the means of energy production…” (2).

The concept of energy democracy is a novel one. It is a social movement still at the beginning of its emergence. Its importance lays in the context of the mitigation of the anthropogenic-induced global climate crisis. Aiming at the establishment of democratic and renewable structures instead of the current monopolized fossil fuel systems, energy democracy brings together the need for the change of both the current energy infrastructure and the economic/social/political scene (4).

In other words, energy democracy is “The vision for a just and equitable renewable energy future that links environmental sustainability, community resilience, social justice, and economic equity…” (5).

In terms of economic equity, in particular, an energy-related problem that enhances the significance of the establishment of energy democracy is the lack of access to quality energy services, the phenomenon known as energy poverty.

The interrelations between energy poverty and climate are significant as they are formed based on climate change’s mitigation, the need for the increase of energy access, and the alleviation of [rural] poverty. Energy poverty is found to influence to a greater extent women, children, and minorities. More specifically, this influence is translated into a lack of fulfillment of basic needs and the unavailability of economic and educational opportunities for these social groups (6).

One of the key findings of the report “Energy for All: financing access for the poor” by the International Energy Agency (IEA) (2011) was that more than 1.3 billion people could not meet their needs for access to electricity and 2.7 billion people cooked in dirty facilities. The majority of these people (above 95%) lived in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asian countries. The alleviation of energy poverty could improve at a significant level the prevention of premature mortality, increase education opportunities, help bridge the gender equality gap, and also help to attain environmental sustainability, among other things (IEA, 2011).

So, to minimize, or even eradicate, the problem of (energy) poverty, it is important that energy democracy is promoted. It is necessary that a sustainable (energy) future is ensured for all and this can only be achieved if a social and democratic development model is adopted worldwide.


(1) Mohanty, M. (2012) New renewable energy sources, green energy development and climate change. Implications to Pacific island countries, Management of Environmental Quality: An International Journal, 23 (3): 264–274.

(2) Szulecki, K. (2018) Conceptualizing energy democracy, Environmental Politics, 27(1): 21– 41.

(3) Kretschmann, J. (2020) Sustainable Change of Coal-Mining Regions, Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration, 37: 167–178.

(4) Burke, M. J. & Stephens J. C. (2017) Energy democracy: Goals and policy instruments for sociotechnical transitions, Energy Research & Social Science, 33: 35–48.

(5) Allen E., Lyons, H. & Stephens J. C. (2019) Women’s leadership in renewable transformation, energy justice and energy democracy: Redistributing power, Energy Research & Social Science, 57: 101223.

(6) Casillas, C. E. and Kammen, D. M. (2010) The Energy-Poverty-Climate Nexus, Science, 330: 1181–1182.

(7) International Energy Agency (2011), An achievable goal: Giving modern energy to the billions who lack it, available at https://www.iea.org/news/an-achievable-goal-giving-modern-energy-to-the-billions-who-lack-it, last accessed on 31/08/2020.

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Athina Kontolati

Written by

Environment| Sustainability| Life|| LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/athina-kontolati

Climate Conscious

Building a collective vision for a better tomorrow

Athina Kontolati

Written by

Environment| Sustainability| Life|| LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/athina-kontolati

Climate Conscious

Building a collective vision for a better tomorrow

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