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Energy Communities in the Changing Energy Landscape

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Energy Sustainability".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 June 2021) | Viewed by 29757

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
TNO Energy Transition, Radarweg 60, 1043 NT, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Interests: community energy; integrated energy system; renewable energy; institutional design; responsible innovation; energy transition; energy citizenship
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

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Guest Editor
Institute for Environmental Sciences, University of Geneva, 24 rue du General Dufour, 1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland
Interests: community energy storage; renewable energy; power-to-gas; smart grids; peer-to-peer trading; energy efficiency; district heating and cooling

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Guest Editor
Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, University of Utrecht, Princetonlaan 8a, 3584 CB, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Interests: community energy; renewable energy; circular economy; sustainable entrepreneurship; energy co-operatives

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Energy communities are facing changing regulatory and technological landscapes, which represent both opportunities for and barriers to their development. On the one hand, the new European clean energy regulation envisages important roles for energy communities in energy systems and provides enabling conditions for their deployment (EU, 2019). Furthermore, new types of interactions among active consumers, prosumers and prosumagers are emerging, often facilitated by decentralized storage, smart grid technologies, distributed energy resources, and other small-scale technologies, as well as local exchanges enabled by innovative blockchain-based peer-to-peer trading platforms and local energy markets (Giotitsas et al., 2015; Hahnel et al., 2019; Koirala et al., 2019, 2018b; Parra et al., 2017, 2016). All these evolutions create new opportunities for energy communities to play an active role in transitioning towards more sustainable energy systems (Devine-Wright, 2019; van der Schoor and Scholtens, 2019; Rommel et al., 2018; Karunathilake et al., 2018; Koirala et al., 2016; Bauwens, 2016; Schoor et al., 2016; Dóci et al., 2015). In turn, the integration of electricity, heating, and transport sectors together with community engagement is expected to contribute to more flexible, cost-effective and efficient local energy systems (Koirala et al., 2016; Thellufsen and Lund, 2016). In this regard, energy communities are a modern development to re-organize the energy system to simultaneously integrate distributed energy resources and engage local communities (Bauwens and Devine-Wright, 2018).

On the other hand, policies that have boosted the development of local renewable projects are being withdrawn across several European countries, including pioneers like Denmark and Germany, where shifts from feed-in tariffs to more market-based instruments have progressively taken place (Bauwens et al., 2016; Leiren and Reimer, 2018; Lundberg, 2019). This has led energy communities to become increasingly professional and commercial and to search for new business models, notably through a diversification of their revenue streams, by proposing other offerings in addition to renewable energy generation, such as electric mobility services, energy efficiency models, and demand-side management (Funkhouser et al., 2015; Gui and MacGill, 2018; Herbes et al., 2017; Mirzania et al., 2019). Another notable evolution is the emergence of networks, intermediaries, coalitions, and collaborative dynamics among initiatives, which help existing and aspiring communities with various aspects of project development and advocacy work  (Bauwens et al., 2019; Hargreaves et al., 2013; Huybrechts and Haugh, 2018).

These changes in policies and business models will likely have consequences ion the forms of and motivations behind participation in energy communities. Until recently, energy communities were driven by environmentally or socially motivated collectives of citizens willing to collaborate, share benefits, and challenge incumbent energy systems (Bauwens, 2016; Koirala et al., 2018a; Rogers et al., 2008; Wirth, 2014). It remains to be seen how these policy changes and evolutions in business models will affect the dynamics of community engagement. Similarly whether these new networks and intermediary organizations will be able to ensure the inclusion of a broader diversity of communities is an open question.

This Special Issue will focus on the process aspects of the ongoing energy transition by contributing to knowledge acquisition on how these changing policy and technological landscapes affect energy communities in terms of conditions for emergence and development, motivations and social dynamics of collective action and participation, business models, energy system integration options, local energy market design, policy and regulatory issues, socio-technical configurations, and community engagement. In this context, this Special Issue invites interdisciplinary contributions on technological, socio-economic, and institutional aspects of energy communities as well as their roles in the ongoing energy transition.

We invite manuscripts on topics including but not limited to the following:

  • Local, virtual, and hybrid energy communities;
  • Positive energy districts and neighborhoods;
  • Energy communities as commons;
  • Opportunities and challenges for energy communities;
  • Enabling technologies and digitalization;
  • Techno-economic and socio-institutional assessments of energy communities;
  • (Self-)Governance, ownership, business models, cost–benefit allocations;
  • Polycentricity, meta-governance, and policy-mix approach for energy communities;
  • Design of local energy markets;
  • Demand response and flexibility in energy communities;
  • Intrinsic motivations and drivers for energy communities;
  • Energy system integration and the role of multi-energy carriers (electricity, hydrogen, heat);
  • Socio-technical innovations and alignments;
  • Citizens and community engagement;
  • Regulation and legal frameworks for energy communities;
  • Changing roles and responsibilities;
  • Multi-actor perspectives on energy communities;
  • Energy communities and local/regional energy transition;
  • Energy Citizenship;
  • Digital twins of energy communities.

References:

  1. Bauwens, T. Explaining the diversity of motivations behind community renewable energy. Energy Policy 2016, 93, 278–290.
  2. Bauwens, T.; Devine-Wright, P. Positive energies? An empirical study of community energy participation and attitudes to renewable energy. Energy Policy 2018, 118, 612–625.
  3. Bauwens, T.; Gotchev, B.; Holstenkamp, L. What drives the development of community energy in Europe? The case of wind power cooperatives. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 2016, 13, 136–147.
  4. Bauwens, T.; Huybrechts, B.; Dufays, F. Understanding the Diverse Scaling Strategies of Social Enterprises as Hybrid Organizations: The Case of Renewable Energy Cooperatives. Organ. Environ. 2019, 1086026619837126.
  5. Devine-Wright, P. Community versus local energy in a context of climate emergency. Nat. Energy 2019, 4, 894–896.
  6. Dóci, G.; Vasileiadou, E.; Petersen, A.C. Exploring the transition potential of renewable energy communities. Futur. 2015, 66, 85–95.
  7. EU. Clean energy for all Europeans - Energy - European Commission Available online: https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/topics/energy-strategy/clean-energy-all-europeans (accessed on 24 July 2019).
  8. Funkhouser, E.; Blackburn, G.; Magee, C.; Rai, V. Business model innovations for deploying distributed generation: The emerging landscape of community solar in the U.S. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 2015, 10, 90–101.
  9. Giotitsas, C.; Pazaitis, A.; Kostakis, V. A peer-to-peer approach to energy production. Technol. Soc. 2015, 42, 28–38.
  10. Gui, E.M.; MacGill, I. Typology of future clean energy communities: An exploratory structure, opportunities, and challenges. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 2018, 35, 94–107.
  11. Hahnel, U.J.; Herberz, M.; Pena-Bello, A.; Parra, D.; Brosch, T. Becoming prosumer: Revealing trading preferences and decision-making strategies in peer-to-peer energy communities. Energy Policy 2020, 137, 111098.
  12. Hargreaves, T.; Hielscher, S.; Seyfang, G.; Smith, A. Grassroots innovations in community energy: The role of intermediaries in niche development. Glob. Environ. Chang. 2013, 23, 868–880.
  13. Herbes, C.; Brummer, V.; Rognli, J.; Blazejewski, S.; Gericke, N. Responding to policy change: New business models for renewable energy cooperatives – Barriers perceived by cooperatives’ members. Energy Policy 2017, 109, 82–95.
  14. Huybrechts, B.; Haugh, H. The Roles of Networks in Institutionalizing New Hybrid Organizational Forms: Insights from the European Renewable Energy Cooperative Network. Organ. Stud. 2017, 39, 1085–1108.
  15. Karunathilake, H.; Perera, P.; Ruparathna, R.; Hewage, K.; Sadiq, R. Renewable energy integration into community energy systems: A case study of new urban residential development. J. Clean. Prod. 2018, 173, 292–307.
  16. Koirala, B.P.; Araghi, Y.; Kroesen, M.; Ghorbani, A.; Hakvoort, R.A.; Herder, P. Trust, awareness, and independence: Insights from a socio-psychological factor analysis of citizen knowledge and participation in community energy systems. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 2018, 38, 33–40.
  17. Koirala, B.P.; Hakvoort, R.A.; Van Oost, E.C.; Van Der Windt, H.J. Community Energy Storage: Governance and Business Models; Elsevier BV, 2019; pp. 209–234;.
  18. Koirala, B.P.; Koliou, E.; Friege, J.; Hakvoort, R.; Herder, P. Energetic communities for community energy: A review of key issues and trends shaping integrated community energy systems. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 2016, 56, 722–744.
  19. Koirala, B.P.; Van Oost, E.; Van Der Windt, H. Community energy storage: A responsible innovation towards a sustainable energy system? Appl. Energy 2018, 231, 570–585.
  20. Leiren, M.D.; Reimer, I. Historical institutionalist perspective on the shift from feed-in tariffs towards auctioning in German renewable energy policy. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 2018, 43, 33–40.
  21. Lundberg, L. Auctions for all? Reviewing the German wind power auctions in 2017. Energy Policy 2019, 128, 449–458.
  22. Mirzania, P.; Ford, A.; Andrews, D.; Ofori, G.; Maidment, G. The impact of policy changes: The opportunities of Community Renewable Energy projects in the UK and the barriers they face. Energy Policy 2019, 129, 1282–1296.
  23. Parra, D.; Norman, S.A.; Walker, G.S.; Gillott, M. Optimum community energy storage system for demand load shifting. Appl. Energy 2016, 174, 130–143.
  24. Parra, D.; Swierczynski, M.J.; Stroe, D.L.; Norman, S.; Abdon, A.; Worlitschek, J.; O’Doherty, T.; Rodrigues, L.; Gillott, M.; Zhang, X.; et al. An interdisciplinary review of energy storage for communities: Challenges and perspectives. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 2017, 79, 730–749.
  25. Rogers, J.; Simmons, E.; Convery, I.; Weatherall, A. Public perceptions of opportunities for community-based renewable energy projects. Energy Policy 2008, 36, 4217–4226.
  26. Rommel, J.; Radtke, J.; Von Jorck, G.; Mey, F.; Yildiz, Özgür Community renewable energy at a crossroads: A think piece on degrowth, technology, and the democratization of the German energy system. J. Clean. Prod. 2018, 197, 1746–1753.
  27. Van Der Schoor, T.; Van Lente, H.; Scholtens, B.; Peine, A. Challenging obduracy: How local communities transform the energy system. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 2016, 13, 94–105.
  28. Thellufsen, J.Z.; Lund, H. Roles of local and national energy systems in the integration of renewable energy. Appl. Energy 2016, 183, 419–429.
  29. van der Schoor, T., Scholtens, B. Scientific approaches of community energy: a literature review. Centre for Energy Economics Research (CEER). University of St Andrews Research: St Andrews, UK, 2019
  30. Wirth, S., 2014. Communites matter: Institutional preconditions for community renewable energy. Energy Policy 2014, 70, 236–346.

Dr. Binod Koirala
Dr. David Parra
Dr. Thomas Bauwens
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • community energy
  • community engagement
  • renewable energy
  • energy transition
  • peer–peer energy exchange
  • business models
  • institutional design
  • energy citizenship
  • (self-)governance
  • socio-technical innovation

Published Papers (7 papers)

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Research

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26 pages, 543 KiB  
Article
Are We on the Right Track? Collective Self-Consumption and Energy Communities in the European Union
by Dorian Frieden, Andreas Tuerk, Ana Rita Antunes, Vasilakis Athanasios, Alexandros-Georgios Chronis, Stanislas d’Herbemont, Mislav Kirac, Rita Marouço, Camilla Neumann, Esteban Pastor Catalayud, Niccolò Primo and Andrej Ferdo Gubina
Sustainability 2021, 13(22), 12494; https://doi.org/10.3390/su132212494 - 12 Nov 2021
Cited by 36 | Viewed by 5100
Abstract
To accelerate the energy transition, the EU “Clean Energy for all Europeans” package aims to strengthen the involvement of end consumers in the energy market. To this end, together with so-called “active consumers” and provisions for individual and collective renewable energy self-consumption, two [...] Read more.
To accelerate the energy transition, the EU “Clean Energy for all Europeans” package aims to strengthen the involvement of end consumers in the energy market. To this end, together with so-called “active consumers” and provisions for individual and collective renewable energy self-consumption, two types of energy communities were introduced. The EU framework, however, leaves many details of the transposition process to the national level. The corresponding directives were supposed to be transposed by the end of December 2020 (recast Electricity Market Directive, defining active consumers and citizen energy communities) and by the end of June 2021 (Renewable Energy Directive, defining renewables self-consumption and renewable energy communities). In this paper, we critically discuss major developments of the transposition, including questions of the general distinction of the different concepts, governance and ownership, physical expansion, administrative barriers and the overall integration of energy communities into the energy system. The analysis builds on country case studies as well as on previous work by the authors on the status of the transposition process throughout the EU. The paper shows that the national approaches differ greatly and are at very different stages. While basic provisions are in place in most Member States to meet the fundamental EU requirements, the overall integration into the energy system and market is only partly addressed. This concerns, for instance, the analysis of system impacts of energy communities and measures that would allow and support energy system-friendly behaviour. In addition, several practical hurdles need to be overcome. These often relate to administrative requirements such as complex registration and licensing procedures, the need for the involvement of several institutions, or difficult procedures for access to relevant data. The paper concludes that discussed barriers will need to be carefully addressed if the high expectations for the role of energy communities are to be met. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Energy Communities in the Changing Energy Landscape)
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18 pages, 1073 KiB  
Article
Towards a Just Energy Transition, Barriers and Opportunities for Positive Energy District Creation in Spain
by Adam X. Hearn and Raul Castaño-Rosa
Sustainability 2021, 13(16), 8698; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13168698 - 4 Aug 2021
Cited by 18 | Viewed by 5007
Abstract
To mitigate the effects of climate change, the European Commission created a Strategic Energy Technology Plan committing to forming 100 Positive Energy Districts (PEDs) by 2025. These are considered to potentially be major instruments for decarbonization in a just transition. This plan has [...] Read more.
To mitigate the effects of climate change, the European Commission created a Strategic Energy Technology Plan committing to forming 100 Positive Energy Districts (PEDs) by 2025. These are considered to potentially be major instruments for decarbonization in a just transition. This plan has led to some districts being defined as PEDs, although none have fully met the criteria to be a PED yet. Research shows that new forms of energy ownership and production, as could potentially be found in PEDs, could help reduce energy poverty, which affects a significant segment of the population, as households can reduce their energy expenditure as well as improve their energy behavior. This paper set out to shed light on the PED landscape, investigating the barriers and opportunities to PED creation in Spain and its potential to mitigate energy poverty. We conducted a literature review on community-owned energy in Spain, followed with expert interviews (energy researchers, stakeholders, and NGOs) who focus on sustainability issues in Spain. Results show a number of barriers (lack of knowledge and awareness, and lack of trust from consumers) and opportunities connected with the creation of PEDs. In conclusion, policymaker engagement and support play a key role in successfully implementing PEDs. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Energy Communities in the Changing Energy Landscape)
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18 pages, 2080 KiB  
Article
Application of Multi-Actor Multi-Criteria Analysis for Transition Management in Energy Communities
by Maria Luisa Lode, Geert te Boveldt, Cathy Macharis and Thierry Coosemans
Sustainability 2021, 13(4), 1783; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13041783 - 7 Feb 2021
Cited by 11 | Viewed by 4303
Abstract
Energy communities (ECs) play a role in the transition towards a low-carbon economy by 2050 and receive increasing attention from stakeholders within the energy sector. To foster ECs, transition management (TM) is a promising managerial approach to steer and guide the transition towards [...] Read more.
Energy communities (ECs) play a role in the transition towards a low-carbon economy by 2050 and receive increasing attention from stakeholders within the energy sector. To foster ECs, transition management (TM) is a promising managerial approach to steer and guide the transition towards more sustainable practices. However, TM lacks a consistent methodology that addresses the criticism of the current application. To investigate what a structured and replicable TM approach for ECs can look like, this paper applies the multi-actor multi-criteria analysis (MAMCA), a participative multi-criteria decision method, to a case study EC in the Netherlands involving various stakeholders. The impact of the application on power relations, the political sphere, sustainability conceptualization, guidance of transitions, and representation was analyzed. MAMCA was found useful for multi-stakeholder settings seen in potential ECs, offering a unifying methodology for the practical application of TM. In the EC setting, the added value of MAMCA within TM lies more in the social representation, insight into stakeholder viewpoints, and communication rather than in final decision-making. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Energy Communities in the Changing Energy Landscape)
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16 pages, 274 KiB  
Article
Collective Action with Altruists: How Are Citizens Led Renewable Energy Communities Developed?
by Gabriella Dóci
Sustainability 2021, 13(2), 507; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13020507 - 7 Jan 2021
Cited by 11 | Viewed by 2207
Abstract
Transition to a sustainable future requires not only technical but also societal changes, including changes in behavioral patterns and consumer roles. Renewable energy communities embody such changes: they are mainly residential communities that break with their passive consumer role and produce energy from [...] Read more.
Transition to a sustainable future requires not only technical but also societal changes, including changes in behavioral patterns and consumer roles. Renewable energy communities embody such changes: they are mainly residential communities that break with their passive consumer role and produce energy from renewable sources in order to meet primarily local needs. Although the number of these communities has increased remarkably in the last decade in many Western countries, as has the academic attention paid to them, we still have limited knowledge on how they are formed and operate. It is unclear how they get their members to work collectively on a voluntary basis for a common goal; that is, energy production at the local level, and overcome the challenge of free-riding. This article seeks to contribute to a better understanding of the institutional and social context in which these communities operate, as well as of the way they are created and function. Therefore, the research question addressed is: What factors influence renewable energy communities’ formation and organization? In particular, the interest is in strategies for group formation, task distribution, collective action, communication, decision making, and problem-solving. This paper addresses the research question through a comparative assessment of case studies in Germany and the Netherlands. It analyzes different communities—of distinct sizes, location, and using various technologies—and assesses the commonalities between them and their general practices that led to the successful project implementation. The results show that, contrary to Olson’s expectation about voluntary collective action, renewable energy communities can realize their goals based on the work of only a few volunteers who develop the project without receiving any additional reward and who also accept free-riding. However, the larger the community’s size and the complexity of the project, the more likely it is that they need to formally organize the procedure or count on external support. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Energy Communities in the Changing Energy Landscape)
18 pages, 566 KiB  
Article
Local Energy Projects on Islands: Assessing the Creation and Upscaling of Social Niches
by Marula Tsagkari
Sustainability 2020, 12(24), 10431; https://doi.org/10.3390/su122410431 - 14 Dec 2020
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 2043
Abstract
Islands have great potential for renewable energy, and several pilot and experimental projects have been set up on islands globally, aiming to promote clean energy and self-sufficiency. Many of these decentralized energy initiatives oppose the established regimes of centralized electricity generation and introduce [...] Read more.
Islands have great potential for renewable energy, and several pilot and experimental projects have been set up on islands globally, aiming to promote clean energy and self-sufficiency. Many of these decentralized energy initiatives oppose the established regimes of centralized electricity generation and introduce new forms of organization and management. Thus, they can be considered social niches. The aim of the present study is to explore the transition potential of renewable energy projects on three islands located in southern Europe. The analysis mobilizes literature on the strategic niche management theory (SNM) with a focus on the role of the various actors and the different management models. Through a systematic analysis of policy documents and the literature, enriched by interviews, the paper identifies different types of renewable energy projects and discusses the potential for scale up. The paper concludes that these projects are currently in the inter-local phase, and decentralization is not only an important innovation for energy production, but also a new form of energy management often dominated by different actors than the established electricity system. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Energy Communities in the Changing Energy Landscape)
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18 pages, 931 KiB  
Article
Being a Better Neighbor: A Value-Based Perspective on Negotiating Acceptability of Locally-Owned Wind Projects
by Esther C. van der Waal, Henny J. van der Windt, Rixt Botma and Ellen C. J. van Oost
Sustainability 2020, 12(21), 8767; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12218767 - 22 Oct 2020
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 2161
Abstract
We pose that instead of problematizing negative attitudes of local stakeholders, such as citizens and NGOs, wind energy implementers should be more focused on scrutinizing the acceptability of their projects. The emphasis in this study is on the potential for representation of local [...] Read more.
We pose that instead of problematizing negative attitudes of local stakeholders, such as citizens and NGOs, wind energy implementers should be more focused on scrutinizing the acceptability of their projects. The emphasis in this study is on the potential for representation of local stakeholders’ values in the project design, including amongst others business model and placement. Informed by value sensitive design literature, we analyzed two contrasting, locally-owned wind projects in the Dutch province of Groningen: the implementation of mini-turbines in a national landscape and a large-scale multi MW wind project in an industrialized area close to a World Heritage nature reserve. The study analyses how the respective farmer-developers and other local stakeholders attempted to resolve or ameliorate inter- and intra-value conflicts regarding livability, economy, landscape, and nature. The value conflicts turned out to be fruitful to identifying key issues and creating more widely shared value conceptualizations and design priorities. Hence, from this study it can be concluded that value conflict can be productive if carefully unpacked and managed. Uneven power distribution among stakeholders in the planning process, overcoming incommensurability of perspectives, and creating intersubjectivity remain challenges. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Energy Communities in the Changing Energy Landscape)
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Review

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19 pages, 311 KiB  
Review
A Review of Energy Communities in Sub-Saharan Africa as a Transition Pathway to Energy Democracy
by Amollo Ambole, Kweku Koranteng, Peris Njoroge and Douglas Logedi Luhangala
Sustainability 2021, 13(4), 2128; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13042128 - 17 Feb 2021
Cited by 26 | Viewed by 7331
Abstract
Energy communities have received considerable attention in the Global North, especially in Europe, due to their potential for achieving sustainable energy transitions. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), energy communities have received less attention partly due to the nascent energy systems in many emerging SSA [...] Read more.
Energy communities have received considerable attention in the Global North, especially in Europe, due to their potential for achieving sustainable energy transitions. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), energy communities have received less attention partly due to the nascent energy systems in many emerging SSA states. In this paper, we argue that these nascent energy systems offer an opportunity to co-create energy communities that can tackle the energy access challenges faced by most SSA countries. To understand how such energy communities are realised in the sub-region, we undertake a systematic review of research on energy communities in 46 SSA countries. Our findings show that only a few energy projects exhibit the conventional characteristics of energy communities; In most of these projects, local communities are inadequately resourced to institute and manage their own projects. We thus look to stakeholder engagement approaches to propose co-design as a strategy for strengthening energy communities in SSA. We further embed our co-design proposal in energy democracy thinking to argue that energy communities can be a pathway towards equity and energy justice in SSA. We conclude that energy communities can indeed contribute to improving energy access in Africa, but they need an enabling policy environment to foster their growth and sustainability. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Energy Communities in the Changing Energy Landscape)
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