University of Jyväskylä

Dissertation: 5.1.2018 People Power: The Role of Civil Society in Renewable Energy Production (Ruggiero)

Start date: Jan 05, 2018 12:00 PM

End date: Jan 05, 2018 03:00 PM

Location: Mattilanniemi, Agora, Lea Pulkkinen Hall.

M.Sc. (Econ) Salvatore Ruggiero defends his doctoral dissertation in Corporate Environmental Management ”People Power: The Role of Civil Society in Renewable Energy Production”. Opponent  Senior Research Fellow, dosentti, KTT Paula Kivimaa (University of Sussex) and custos Professor Hanna-Leena Pesonen (University of Jyväskylä). The doctoral dissertation is held in English.

M.Sc. Salvatore Ruggiero PhD’s dissertation “People power: the role of civil society in renewable energy production” public examination. January 5th, Lea Pulkkinen Hall, Agora building, University of Jyväskylä. Opponent Senior Research Fellow Paula Kivimaa and custos Prof. Hanna-Leena Pesonen. The public examination of the dissertation is in English. 

Salvatore Ruggiero’s PhD thesis focuses on the growing phenomenon of citizens’ engagement in renewable energy production through small-scale distributed energy projects run, for example, by cooperatives, charities and local communities. The study aimed at exploring the drivers and barriers of these initiatives and the role they can play in accelerating the energy transition in the context of seven northern European countries including Finland.

The results of the study showed that citizens’ involvement in renewable energy production is being driven by ideology, social needs and the need to reduce energy bills. Besides that, it was also found that citizens living especially in rural areas shared a feeling of owning crucial resources such as good renewable energy sites, social capital or agricultural waste that can be better used to promote socio-economic development and sustainability in their regions. This finding shows that current policies are not able to fully tap into this existing pool of resources which could be mobilized to accelerate the energy transition.

Citizens led projects have numerous benefits in terms of increased renewable energy acceptance, local economic development, and energy independence but face numerous barriers including unfavorable regulation for small-scale production, lack of appropriate financing mechanisms and incumbent energy firms’ resistance.

This research showed that the resistance of incumbent energy firms to the growth of small-scale distributed energy production is due to its negative repercussions on the long-term profitability of conventional power plants. This second finding has two important implications: 1) the expansion of renewable energy is contributing to reduce the competitiveness of fossil fuel production, 2) incumbent energy firms need to rethink their traditional business model and develop services for small-scale distributed energy production. 

The results of the study are of particular relevance for policy makers, municipalities planning renewable energy initiatives and energy utilities. The general conclusion of the research is that, citizens’ participation in renewable energy production can play an important role in contributing to the energy transition due to the potential resources that it can mobilize and the benefits it brings especially to rural areas.

As Finland has ambitious objectives for a low carbon energy future, citizen-led projects could play a part in helping to deliver these. Nevertheless, a new energy strategy in which citizens are at the core of the energy transition and benefit from distributed energy technologies to reduce their bills needs to be developed. 

Jyväskylä Studies in Business and Economics, 183. Permanent link:


The engagement of civil society actors in energy generation can be defined by the term community energy. Community energy initiatives have increased in several countries.

This thesis aims at better understanding how this phenomenon emerges and how it can contribute to the decarbonization of our economy. For this purpose, a multi-level perspective on socio-technical transitions and strategic niche management theory were employed as theoretical lenses. The research material consisted of 75 qualitative interviews, a survey of 26 distributed energy experts, and a panel data study of 66 large electric utilities from various countries. Thematic, narrative, regression and descriptive statistical analysis were utilized to analyse the data collected.

The main findings showed that four main development patterns are triggering the rise of community energy projects. They are: (a) the characteristics of individuals, (b) social needs, (c) economic factors and (d) policy factors. The type of drivers behind community energy development is linked to the possibilities for scaling up the sector. Along with the drivers, some barriers were also identified. These included the resistance of incumbent regime actors to renewable energy diffusion, regulation and, in a few cases, technology performance. Regression analysis and the Granger test for causality showed that this resistance of incumbent energy firms was due to the negative correlation between an increase in renewable energy production and firms’ long-term financial performance.

The thesis concluded that community energy could have an important role to play in the ongoing energy transition. Its impact, however, is contingent on the degree of internal niche development and on the ways the community energy niche will engage with important regime actors such as energy companies, governments, and network operators.

This work contributed to better understanding the factors influencing the development of socio-technical niches in the case of non-market driven innovation and the reasons that lead to the locking-up of energy regimes. In the future, researchers should make further attempts to uncover the ways in which regimes can be unlocked and social innovation for sustainability diffused.

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Salvatore Ruggiero
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