Demanding supply: Putting ordinary citizens at the heart of future energy systems
Our energy systems are in transition. However, mainstream debates on energy futures tend to have a common blindspot: the focus is on energy sources, market regulation, security, demand, price and the environment, but the role of ordinary people in these systems is left out.
Triggered by this reality, Hivos and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) set out to ask leading energy thinkers around the world what role ordinary people will play in energy systems of the future. An in-depth research paper on the ‘people’ aspect of transition is now finalised and can be downloaded from the right sidebar. The research is meant to inform our Energy Change Lab, a ‘purposed space’ that looks to accelerate and shape energy transitions so they are inclusive and environmentally sustainable.
What scenarios can we imagine? For example, will a shift to renewables and energy efficiency go hand in hand with a radical democratisation, where people are generating and trading energy from their own homes and businesses? Or will the future look similar to today, with large companies and governments in the driving seat while people act as consumers, focused on utility and price alone? What are the ingredients of a ‘people-centred’ energy system? What might it look like across developing and developed countries, rural and urban areas?
Opinions vary: some want to see a future where citizens produce, control or profit more from local energy resources; for others, companies and governments are likely to remain in the lead, with people acting as passive consumers. A point of convergence is that energy solutions, however delivered, need to be more ‘people-centred’: they need to create jobs, incentivise users to be efficient, be accountable to customers, and promote off-grid and ‘bottom-up’ service design for poor communities. Accelerating change will require tried and tested tools such as price signals, and newer approaches focused on transforming the energy sector’s culture, education and leadership, strengthening civil society advocacy, and creating new spaces for crosssector innovation.