Are you an active energy citizen? What does it mean and why is it important?

Energy citizenship will play a major role in the ongoing energy revolution. It promotes sustainable choices and active participation by citizens in energy systems, going hand in hand with technological innovations.

Energy citizenship refers to people's active participation in energy systems: engaging in energy-related discourse and making conscious decisions related to energy. Energy citizens are one step beyond traditional energy customers. Empowered by ubiquitous digitalisation, energy citizens monitor and optimise their energy consumption and are aware of their ability to influence the environment.

Before we can actively contribute as energy citizens, we need to understand what it means and what we need to do.

At LUT University, energy citizenship is studied on the multidisciplinary DIGI-USER research platform. The platform examines the user-driven development of services that take advantage of digitalisation.

Energy citizenship researchers aim to understand the conditions that best support people in working both individually and collaboratively towards a more sustainable future.

"Through policy outlines and societal structures, institutional actors could pave the way for individuals to engage as energy citizens," says Helinä Melkas, Professor of Industrial Engineering and Management and Platform Director.

Researcher Annika Wolff adds that local energy systems should effectively promote the active engagement of individuals.

"A foundation for true participation should be established – not just strategies that seemingly support engagement," Wolff states.

Global impacts are created locally

Active energy citizenship is multidimensional. It may mean taking climate issues up in smaller or larger contexts, monitoring household electricity consumption, energy efficient behaviour, sharing electric vehicles, or generating solar energy at home.  

Institutional actors support energy citizenship by involving communities in energy transition planning. Collaboration and interaction provide technology designers and citizens with an idea of what energy reforms and technology solutions could be adopted in so-called regular households.

"Experiential narratives build bridges between statistics, legislation and individual experiences. Narratives increase awareness and empowerment by providing peer support," Annika Wolff explains. 

For example, an individual's intention to replace oil heating with a more ecological alternative may fall flat because of high expenses or a lack of knowledge concerning technical requirements. Spreading information on state subsidies for replacing oil heating or peer experiences of alternative heating solutions could help people follow through on their plans.

"The way people act and the information they need depend on many things, such as age, gender and situation in life. These aspects need to be understood when energy issues are discussed. The dialogue should not be restricted to technology experts alone," Melkas emphasises.

We are a community – we influence the energy revolution

Digitalisation and the energy revolution are taking place as we speak, and data is important in steering energy consumption. Different systems provide data on the actions and choices of individuals, but turning data into knowledge is also a bottleneck.

"At the system level, data analytics could be utilised to enable the development of better and more informative digital platforms and services that better meet customer needs. Moreover, it enables the promotion of sustainable energy choices," Researcher Toni Kuronen says.

Dialogue and data are needed not only on information needs, practices, and technical restrictions and possibilities but also on the motives, values and attitudes that steer energy citizenship. LUT's researchers Wolff, Melkas, Kuronen and Gonçalo Mendes highlight that energy citizenship can be discussed at a range of political, technical and individual levels.

Moreover, Mendes highlights: "We make too many assumptions as to how people will behave when confronted with energy choices that to some of us may seem evident."

The energy revolution requires conditions that empower and engage individuals and communities  as well as public discourse and narratives on those conditions – not only further scientific debate.

We know today that households will play an increasingly important role in energy systems. Energy citizenship and our own small part in combating climate change is something that we should all value and hold dear. "The possibilities of making such a change may look limited to individual people and small businesses, but the potential effects of collective action could be truly transformative in the energy revolution," reminds Gonçalo Mendes.

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