Energy Communities and the Tensions Between Neoliberalism and Communitarianism

The convergent development of (renewable) distributed electricity sources, storage technologies (e.g., batteries), ‘big data’ devices (e.g., sensors, smart meters), and novel ICT infrastructure matching energy supply and demand (smart grids) enables new local and collective forms of energy consumption and production. This socio-technical evolution has been accompanied by the development of citizen energy communities that have been supported by EU energy governance and directives, adopting a political narrative of placing the citizen central in the ongoing energy transition. But to what extent are the ideals that motivate the energy community movement compatible with those of neoliberalism that have guided EU energy policy for the last four decades? Using a framework inspired by Michel Foucault’s idea of governmentality, we analyze the two political forms from three dimensions: ontological, economic and power politics. For the ontological and the economic dimensions, neoliberal governmentality is flexible enough to accommodate the tensions raised by the communitarians. In the dimension of power politics however, the communitarian logic does raise a fundamental challenge to neoliberal governmentality in the sense that it explicitly aims for a redefinition of the ‘common good’ of society’s energy supply based on democratic premises.

Publication Date: 05 Jan 2022

Author: Erik Laes, TU/e