On the upscaling of community energy as an empowering dynamic

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic


The convergence of the rise of (renewable) distributed energy sources, energy storage solutions (e.g. batteries, hydrogen), ‘big data’ infrastructure (e.g. sensors, smart meters) and novel ICT solutions that aggregate distributed energy sources enables the rise of a new type of organisation on the energy market: the energy community. Even though such energy communities can take many different shapes and forms (e.g. ‘positive energy communities’, ‘local energy communities’, ‘renewable energy communities’, etc.), they all share the basic feature that through the common management and aggregation of local energy production and demand some degree of independence from the main power grid and the centralised energy production system is achieved. Pushed to the extreme, local communities can strive to become completely autarchic – i.e. become completely independent from energy provision through the power grid. Another possibility is to manage and steer the local power production and storage infrastructure as one ‘virtual power plant’ (VPP), able to deliver services for balancing the power grid and trading electricity on the electricity markets.
The practical ownership, organisation and management of such energy communities can still take many forms however. The energy communities can be ‘colonized’ by the incumbent energy companies to manage grid stabilization for instance. In this case, owners of local distributed energy sources (e.g. solar PV) are instrumentalised with an empowerment rhetoric. On the other hand, a co-operative approach to energy community ownership and management can be driven by community needs and goals, such as the ambition to become energy independent by using self-generated renewable energy, strengthen local communities, create local jobs or other local issues. They will inevitably face structural resistance of powerful companies trying to maintain the current agreements of energy distribution and electricity net management.
Beyond this dual empowerment logic – i.e. that of the ‘colonisation’ of energy communities by incumbent actors vs. the struggle of energy communities to break the ‘domination’ or ‘hegemony’ of the powerful energy regime actors – lies a host of other possible power dynamics. The aim of this paper is to analyse these power dynamics in the interplay between energy communities and the existing organisation of the system of electricity provision from the vantage point of Foucault’s notion of neoliberal governmentality. According to Foucault, governmental reason represents an approach to social control that operates not through direct state sanction but through the indirect shaping of ‘free’ social practices, a process which he calls the ‘conduct of conduct’. Particular to the neoliberal form of governmentality is the re-organisation of social relations around a notion of ‘enterprise’. Crucial to understanding this form of governmentality is the fact that autonomy (of individuals or collectives) is not the opposite of or limit to neoliberal governance, but rather lies at the heart of social control through ‘responsible self-management’. As such, the concept of ‘empowered’ energy communities as new actors on a competitive energy market could be made to work entirely in line with a neoliberal agenda. It is therefore important to carefully analyse the ‘economy of power’ involved in the various agendas for upscaling energy communities as an integral component of the energy system of the future to understand in what sense the upscaling dynamic can be said to be ‘empowering’.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2020
Event39th Dutch-Flemish day of philosophy - University of Twente, Enschede, Netherlands
Duration: 22 Feb 202022 Feb 2020


Conference39th Dutch-Flemish day of philosophy


  • community energy
  • neoliberalism
  • empowerment
  • Foucault


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