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Renewable energy ‘prosumerism’: a new (social) movement?
RES prosumerism – i.e. the self-production and consumption of energy from renewable sources (RES) – has been referred to as a grassroots innovation and as a (transformative) social innovation. Yet, could we consider RES prosumerism as something more than an innovation, and should we talk of a social movement also? If yes, what are the driving forces of this movement? What does this mean to the transition to a sustainable energy production and consumption model? Our study aims to address these three questions. First, we will briefly compare literature on energy-related social movements, transformative social innovation and grassroots innovations. The goal of this literature review is to understand whether RES prosumerism may be considered as a type of social movement, within which social innovations led by different (collective) actors (i.e. municipalities, local communities, transnational communities, businesses or NGOs), and reflecting different institutional logics (public, private, third sector and civil society) are being developed with the goal of self-producing and consuming energy from renewable sources. Second, the study draws on data collected through an online self-administered questionnaire (with around 170 responses from RES collective initiatives from 9 European countries), that surveys the motivation behind setting up a RES prosumer initiative. Results from this questionnaire will be complemented by the analysis of a dataset collected with around 900 RES prosumer collectives across Europe, with the goal of identifying any common features (values, mission, motivation) among the diverse types of initiatives. Finally, to further understand the relevance of RES prosumerism as a social movement in the context of the energy transition, the study will examine different examples of European energy cooperatives and communities. that involve multiple actors from diverse social domains (e.g. local community, business owners), which will help us to understand how this movement can be contributing to and incentivizing the development of innovative and more sustainable production and consumption patterns. The study will show the key features of RES prosumerism by characterizing the views, values and norms that seem to be prevalent among participants in RES prosumer initiatives, and which seem to be connected to the undercurrents of global anti-climate change, socio-ecological values and beliefs, shared by other social and grassroots innovations.